Wednesday Workshop – Verbal & Physical Abuse in the Alzheimer’s Patient

Wednesday Workshop – Verbal & Physical Abuse in the Alzheimer’s Patient

Wednesday Workshop - Verbal & Physical AbuseVerbal & Physical Abuse in the Alzheimer’s Patient

On today’s Wednesday Workshop we are going to be discussing how to manage verbal and physical abuse in the Alzheimer’s patient.

People with dementia have the same needs as everyone else, including comfort, social interaction, stimulation, emotional well-being and being free from pain. However, people with dementia may be unable to recognize their needs, know how to meet them, or communicate what they need to others. This may cause them to act aggressively. The aggressive behavior might be the person’s way of meeting the need, an attempt to communicate it, or an outcome of the unmet need.

Tips for caregivers reacting to aggressive behavior at the time:

First, make changes to how you approach the situation. It is important to adapt to the perspective and needs of the person with dementia. It can be frustrating but it is important to understand that reasoning or logical argument is unlikely to get the result you’re looking for.

Before you react, take a deep breath, step back to give the person space and take some time. You may need to leave the room until you have both calmed down.


  • Try to stay calm and avoid any potential for confrontation. A heated response may make the situation worse.
  • Try not to show any fear, alarm or anxiety, as this may increase the person’s agitation –although if you feel threatened, this is easier said than done. If you do end up feeling threatened, call for help.
  • Try not to shout or initiate physical contact – this could be misinterpreted as threatening behavior. If the person’s behavior is physically violent, give them plenty of space and time.
  • Unless it is absolutely necessary, avoid closing in or trying to restrain someone, as this can make things worse.
  • You should reassure your loved one and acknowledge their feelings.
  • Try not to take the behavior personally – the person is most likely trying to communicate a need, not attacking you on a personal level. If you find the cause of the behavior, you may be able to prevent future incidents.
  • Listen to what they are saying. This shows that you are not against them and that you want to help.
  • Maintain eye contact and try to explain calmly why you are there.
  • Try to find out what is causing the behavior.
  • Try to distract or redirect their attention if they remain angry.
  • Ask yourself if whatever you are trying to do for the person really needs to be done at that moment. If you are able to give them space, come back later and try again – you may be able to avoid a confrontation. 

Tips for caregivers reacting to aggressive behavior after the incident:

  • Don’t punish the person for their behavior; try to carry on as normal and be as reassuring as possible.
  • Focus on the person, not the behavior that they displayed. They may still be upset and distressed after the incident.
  • Take some time and talk through your feelings with others – like a family member, a counselor or a dementia support group.
  • Bottling up your feelings may make it harder to care for the person with dementia and also mean that you find yourself focusing on the behavior instead of the person.
  • Finding ways to prevent and manage the aggression will improve the quality of life for both the person with dementia and the caregiver. It will also make the caring role easier. To reduce or prevent aggressive behavior, caregivers will need to look at the person as an individual and work out why they are behaving in a certain way. It is important to see what is happening from the perspective of the person with dementia and to identify the reason for the behavior. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution, and caregivers will need to tailor their approach to each situation. They should use what they know about the person, including their personality, likes and dislikes.
  • It is important to remember that the person is not being aggressive deliberately. The behavior may appear to be targeted at you, but that is probably just because you are there. The fact that the person is aggressive towards you doesn’t mean that their feelings for you have changed.
  • Try not to bottle up your feelings or resentments – find ways to talk things through. If you do lose your temper, try not to feel guilty – it is a highly stressful situation that you are dealing with – but do discuss things with a friend, professional or another caregiver who may be able to suggest ways of handling these situations more effectively.

It is very important to seek support if the person you are caring for is acting aggressively. Fewer incidents of aggressive behavior will lead to a better relationship between you and the person you care for and a better quality of life for you both.

If you need help or have questions on how to manage verbal or physical abuse, reach out to the Alzheimer’s Care Resource Center today at 855-476-7600