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Why are Alzheimer's patients so mean?

Showing mean or aggressive behavior is part of Alzheimer’s progression. Besides, it may be caused by other factors, too. Such factors can be (1) physical pain, (2) communication, (3) feeling frustrated, (4) hallucinations, and (5) environmental factors. For example, loud surroundings, many people in the room, or room temperature can be environmental factors.

These are all factors that can contribute to mean and aggressive behavior.

Knowing that it’s part of the disease and knowing how to react in such a situation is important.

Let me tell you a story out of the daily life of someone with Alzheimer’s.

The story of Friedrich, 73 years old.

It’s a sunny morning when Friedrich stands up out of bed and prepares himself for work.

He puts on his white shirt and a blue tie. After being done with dressing he goes to the kitchen, grabs the newspaper, and walks out of the door.

His son runs after him asking “Dad where are you going?”. “I am going to the company. My morning shift is starting soon.”

His son looked at him confused, replying “But Dad, you retired ten years ago!”.

His dad laughs and keeps on walking to the gate. “Dad, you do not work anymore, don’t you remember?”

His dad becomes annoyed and yelled: “Son, I have no time for you!

Just go do something else!”. Leaving his son at the gate, who is shocked to be yelled at in public.

Commonly, someone with Alzheimer’s wants to do things that might not be appropriate.

But, consider how bad the communication by the son was. Using phrases like “Don’t you remember?” is just toxic.

How would somebody suffering from Alzheimer’s remember anything?

Sometimes they do not even remember their name, nor how old they are.

So how can you do it differently?

Table of Content
How do you deal with an aggressive Alzheimer's patient?
A word from the author
List of Resources
About the Author

How do you deal with an aggressive Alzheimer's patient?

There are things you can try to get ahead of this behavior including (1) avoid arguing, (2) figure out triggers, (3) shift the attention, (4) create a safe and calming atmosphere, (5) eliminate environmental factors. Doing all this may help reduce their aggression. However, if nothing helps make sure that they can not be a danger to themselves or others. Leaving them alone and giving them time by themselves could be a solution, too. Just be sure that they know that you are next door. Signalise that they are not alone.

So how could good communication look like in the upper example story?

The story of Friedrich, 73 years old.

Friedrich walks out of the door on his way to work. His son asks him again where he is going.

He replies again with “I am going to work.”. This time the son reacts differently though. “Oh, so it is already time to work? So even I have to get going then. Could you help me with the dishes in the kitchen?”

The father could reply with ‘No’.

However, a great follow-up question is “Did you pack your lunch? Check on the table I left you your favorite sandwich there.”

So there you have it, do not argue with someone with Alzheimer’s.

Instead, distract.

There are many other things you can try, including the following list.

How do you deal with an aggressive Alzheimer's patient?
8 Examples
1. Avoid arguing. Do not try to convince an Alzheimer’s patient. It will not work. Rather distract and redirect him to a new topic. Choose the topic wisely, though. Everything that could be upsetting or lead to an argument should be avoided, too.
2. Figure out triggers. Observe what was happening when your loved one became aggressive or mean. What phrases were said? What room temperature was it? How many people were in the room? What time of day was it? You can make a list and enter it into a notebook. It is highly possible to identify patterns and triggers of the behavior this way.
3. Shift the attention. Try changing the topic into something calming. It could be anything the latest news, some event, even sports could do the trick. In “How to talk to someone with Alzheimer’s” you can learn about communication techniques that may come in handy for you.
4. Create a safe and calming atmosphere. Take everything away that someone could use to harm himself or others. This includes knives, caesars, or objects that can be thrown around. Use a gentle tone when talking to your beloved one. Validating their feelings can help, too. You can learn more about communication techniques in the upper mentioned link.
5. Eliminate environmental factors. Sometimes it may be that your beloved person is overstimulated. Such overstimulation can cause aggressive behavior. Thus, try to eliminate all unnecessary stimuli in the room. For example, turn down the music volume and turn the television off. Besides, too many people in the room can cause overstimulation, too.

A word from the author

Someone with Alzheimer’s has good days and some that are not. One day they might have no problem dressing, the other day they might not remember how to button a button.

Keep in mind that this is very frustrating for them, too.

Missing a huge chunk of one’s cognitive abilities is overwhelming.

We are not used to thinking about how to tie a shoe, we just do it.

However, Alzheimer’s patients do not always have automatic processes at hand.

This is where caregivers fit the gab. They fix problems at hand regardless of whose fault it is.

They fix it.

Being a policeman and calling them out for everything that they do wrong is just ‘not the right attitude’.

List of Resources

Patric Pförtner

B. Sc. Psychology

Hi, my name is Patric Pfoertner and I graduated 2020 from the NBU. Currently, I work and study in Germany. My specialisations are Cognitive Psychology paired with a good slack of Clinical Psychology. Just this year I started publishing my research in the CBB Journal. Feel free to read about it at ResearchGate. Otherwise, click the other button to read my full CV.

About Author ResearchGate

P.S.: I am available for psychological consultation, too.