Alzheimer's Caregiving Tips for Dealing with Aggressive Behavior Issued by National Institute on Aging

Agitated & Aggressive Behaviors are Common in Alzheimer's patients.  Here are coping tips for the family caregiver.

The National Institute on Aging (NIA), part of the National Institutes of Health, has recently issued a tipsheet for Alzheimer’s caregivers on Coping with Agitation and Aggression.

As the tipsheet points out, agitation and aggressive behavior are common manifestations of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Coping with these behaviors in an effective and informed way is a key concern for family caregivers of patients with Alzheimer’s.

Focus First on Finding and Eliminating the Cause of the Behavior

“Most of the time, agitation and aggression happen for a reason,” the NIA explains. “When they happen, try to find the cause. If you deal with the causes, the behavior may stop,” the NIA tipsheet counsels.

Some examples of common causes for aggressive behavior or agitation in a person with Alzheimers, include:

  • “Pain, depression, or stress
  • Too little rest or sleep
  • Constipation
  • Soiled underwear or diaper
  • Sudden change in a well-known place, routine, or person
  • A feeling of loss—for example, the person may miss the freedom to drive
  • Too much noise or confusion or too many people in the room
  • Being pushed by others to do something—for example, to bathe or to remember events or people—when Alzheimer’s has made the activity very hard or impossible
  • Feeling lonely and not having enough contact with other people
  • Interaction of medicines”

The NIA advises the caregiver to look for signs of aggression or agitation early. When such behavior appears, focus first on trying to find and eliminate the cause of the behavior before it worsens.

“A doctor may be able to help. He or she can give the person a medical exam to find any problems that may cause agitation and aggression. Also, ask the doctor if medicine is needed to prevent or reduce agitation or aggression,” the NIA advises.

Tips for Coping with Agitation and Aggression in a Person with Alzheimer’s

Here are the NIA’s tips for the caregiver on how to deal with agitation and aggressive behavior of your loved one with Alzheimer’s Disease:

  • “Reassure the person. Speak calmly. Listen to his or her concerns and frustrations. Try to show that you understand if the person is angry or fearful.
  • Allow the person to keep as much control in his or her life as possible.
  • Coping with changes is hard for someone with Alzheimer’s. Try to keep a routine, such as bathing, dressing, and eating at the same time each day.
  • Build quiet times into the day, along with activities.
  • Keep well-loved objects and photographs around the house to help the person feel more secure.
  • Try gentle touching, soothing music, reading, or walks.
  • Reduce noise, clutter, or the number of people in the room.
  • Try to distract the person with a favorite snack, object, or activity.
  • Limit the amount of caffeine, sugar, and “junk food” the person drinks and eats.
  • Slow down and try to relax if you think your own worries may be affecting the person with Alzheimer’s.
  • Try to find a way to take a break from caregiving.”

Safety Concerns

Finally, the NIA warns that safety concerns must take priority. “When the person is aggressive, protect yourself and others.”

“If you have to, stay at a safe distance from the person until the behavior stops. Also try to protect the person from hurting himself or herself,” the NIA’s tipsheet concludes.

More Information

You can download a PDF copy of the NIA’s tipsheet from their website.

See related HelpingYouCare® reports on:


5 Tips On Dealing With Violent Alzheimer’s Behavior

The 36-Hour Day: A Family Guide to Caring for Persons with Alzheimer Disease

See also: the HelpingYouCare® resource pages on How to Deal with Difficult Elderly Behavior, including Classic Sources and more sources (continually updated) on:

And see:

For more information on Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia, see the HelpingYouCare® resource pages on Alzheimer’s/ Dementia, including:


Copyright © 2013 Care-Help LLC, publisher of HelpingYouCare®. All rights reserved.


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