Our “new normal” created by the COVID-19 pandemic can be very unsettling for a person who lives with dementia. Unfortunately, aggressive behavior can surface at any time when a loved one has dementia and caregivers need to have the tools to help them through this unsettling time.
Below are 7 ways to reduce and prepare for aggressive behavior:
1. Notice indications of an upcoming outburst
Sometimes, but not always, there are indications that an aggressive outburst is approaching. Minor outbursts, heightened confusion, agitation, anger, and frustration could be signs that things aren’t quite right. Often, since you know them so well, you might have a feeling that something is “off” with them.
When you sense that a storm could be approaching, try heading it off by switching to a soothing activity they enjoy, calming the environment, giving them a snack or drink they love, or providing some extra comfort and support.
It’s also possible that an aggressive episode could come out of the blue, so don’t always count on having a warning.
2. Stick to a regular daily routine
To minimize unexpected and stressful events, create and stick to a regular daily routine with your loved one.
Living with dementia, losing control over cognitive and physical abilities will affect a person’s independence. That means their lives are filled with more and more unknowns.
If days are unstructured and unpredictable, life can become even more stressful – and stress contributes to the anger and anxiety behind aggressive dementia behaviors.
3. Create a calm living environment
For someone living with dementia, a calm and relaxing environment helps minimize confusion, agitation and helps with essential daily tasks being accomplished.
When the environment is distracting or makes it difficult to complete basic tasks, it can increase frustration and agitation, which can trigger or contribute to an angry outburst.
4. Be mindful of nonverbal communication
Unfortunately, often, the nonverbal messages we send through our body language and facial expressions come through more clearly than the words we speak.
Using body language and facial expressions can also help the person living with dementia. A clear body message or facial expression can reduce confusion, agitation, and anger as well as increase cooperation with essential tasks.
5. Get rid of all potential weapons
To keep everyone safe, it’s important to remove all potential weapons from your loved ones view. This goes beyond obvious items like guns, knives, and sharp objects.
Lock up regular household items that could also be used as weapons – heavy rolling pins, scissors, fire extinguisher, matches and lighters, glass bottles, or screwdrivers and other tools.
For example, the person you care for could have a hallucination or delusion that someone was breaking into the house or mistakes you for a burglar. If that happened, the person could unintentionally attack you with a weapon having good intentions of protecting you, themselves, and / or other family members.
6. Create a safe place for yourself
In some cases, the best thing to do is remove yourself from an aggressive situation and wait until the person you care for calms down or forgets that they’re upset.
That means having a safe place where you can get away from an angry person living with dementia. It could be a room which is fully secured or a clear path to get outside. But, you must also have a plan for times when a situation gets out of hand.
For example, keep a phone and additional security tools in the safe room to prevent the door from being opened, like a doorstop wedge or a security bar to jam against the doorknob.
Knowing that you have a plan to fall back on reduces stress and helps you stay safe.
7. Prepare emergency responders to keep things from escalating
Do your best to prevent a situation where emergency responders like police, fire, and EMTs mistake your loved one’s aggressive dementia behavior for intentional aggression and threats.
They could respond with force, which would make the situation worse and could result in injuries, jail, or an involuntary psychiatric hospitalization.
When you’re not in an emergency situation, call the non-emergency number for police, fire, and emergency responders.
Ask if they can place a prominent “flag” or notification on your address or phone number to let responders know that your loved one lives with dementia. Explain how they could best de-escalate an aggressive situation or provide protection for all involved.
If your area’s emergency responders use a service like Smart911, sign up to add this important personal information to your address and your phone number.