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Health & Wellness

Managing Challenging Behaviors in People With Alzheimer's

Coping with changes in your loved one’s behavior is one of the most challenging aspects of care giving. A person with Alzheimer’s disease may overreact to minor stressors. At times these behaviors may be unpredictable and include anger and aggression. The following tips can help to reduce undesirable behavior:

  • Simplify the environment. Avoid clutter.
  • Identify situations, sounds or patterns that cause aggression and avoid them when possible.
  • Decrease the number of items placed in front of your loved one during an activity or at mealtime.
  • Avoid confusion and hurry.
  • Avoid overstimulation.
  • Be alert for a possible illness or pain that may be causing the behavior.

What to do if your loved one becomes aggressive

  • If your loved one becomes aggressive, remember that it is the disease—not the person—causing the behavior.
  • Avoid confrontation.
  • Be positive and reassuring, and speak with a quiet, soothing voice.
  • If your loved one becomes physically aggressive, back away. It may help to say something such as, “Please don’t hurt me.”
  • Avoid restraining your loved one, such as holding his hands or arms, but do what you must to be safe.
  • If aggression becomes a concern, remove heavy or sharp objects from the environment and keep them out of sight.

Source: Mayo Clinic on Alzheimer’s disease, Petersen, Ronald (Ed.), 2002.

How to handle indifference or depression

A commonly reported behavior among Alzheimer’s patients is apathy, or a lack of motivation. Your loved one may sit for long periods of time staring blankly. Depression is also a common condition associated with Alzheimer’s disease. In addition to apathy, depression may involve anger, irritability, frequent crying spells and changes in appetite and sleep patterns.

  • Engage your loved one in his favorite activities.
  • Reminisce about past events that your loved one is more likely to remember.
  • Play music with a strong tempo, and encourage your loved one to clap or stomp his feet.
  • Acknowledge your loved one’s feelings. Realize that he may be feeling grief over physical and mental losses due to Alzheimer’s or grieving over deceased loved ones.
  • Use simple humor, such as a book of jokes or old TV comedies to lighten things up for both you and your loved one.
  • Talk to your doctor if your loved one is showing signs of depression.
  • Consider an elder care program that engages your loved one in appropriate activities.

Source: Mayo Clinic on Alzheimer’s disease, Petersen, Ronald (Ed.), 2002.