Ask the Alzheimer’s Expert! How Should I Respond When She Tries To Hit Me?
Ask the Alzheimer’s Expert is brought to you each week by Elayne Forgie and the Alzheimer’s Care Resource Center.
Question: My mother keeps trying to hit me. I know she has dementia but how do I handle this?
Answer: I’m sure it’s very upsetting when your mom gets so angry or frustrated that she raises her hand and tries to strike you. It’s important that you try to diffuse the situation to keep it from escalating. This can help to keep you both safe. Here are some tips that might help:
1. Back down. Most of the time, the incident escalates when the patient does not want to do tasks such as undress, brush teeth or bathe. Dementia patients lose their ability to reason, so don’t try to negotiate. Try again later when the person’s mood has improved.
2. When she is upset, apologize — even when it’s not your fault. Apologize because your mom is upset – even if it’s not your fault. Using this strategy will buy you time and good will. Don’t argue with her, because you can’t win. Don’t physically force her to do anything as this could worsen the situation and possibly injure both of you.
3. When she becomes agitated, change the topic. Move to another room or a part of the house that she likes. Talk about something she enjoys doing while remaining as calm as you can. Point things out to her as you speak quietly. If you stay calm, she might mirror you and become calmer.
4. Keep in mind that the world is distorted for a dementia patient. Your mom is likely becoming more sensitive to noise and easily fatigued.
It can be exhausting to try and follow all of the confusing requests and complete all of the tasks that are becoming harder for her to do each day. Try to see that she has some quiet in the early or mid-afternoon to nap or just rest. Dementia patients become more and more irritable and confused, especially late in the afternoon and early evening. A tired, frustrated and confused patient, can quickly turn combative or aggressive.
5. Call for help. If you’re worried your mom may actually injure you or herself, please call 911. Sometimes dementia patients will recognize the responding officers uniform and feel reassured. Most police departments have trained their officers to recognize the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, and they might he helpful in stopping a bad situation from getting worse.