an elderly man yells at his wife

What do you do with an elderly person who is aggressive? Here are tips from our community forums:

Keep your cool

When a patient is being aggressive, use a calm, but firm tone of voice – it’s fine to take a moment to collect yourself if you need to – and don’t argue. Be respectful. If you’re concerned about being accused of improper care, be sure to document things.

Check to see if they’re in pain

Aggression may be due to an undiagnosed UTI, hairline fracture, or another condition. If your patient has difficulty expressing themselves, you might have to do a bit of investigating to make sure there isn’t an undiagnosed issue or insufficient pain medication.

Imagine their perspective

What must their life be like? Many patients are afraid of dying, upset by chronic pain, and upset by loss of control. Seeing things from their point of view can help you come up with solutions, or at least help you to be empathetic when they become aggressive.

Find out what calms them down

Many people respond to music. You can put on a recording or give it a go yourself. Ask them questions about their life, make them feel like they’re more than just a number. People do better when they’re occupied, so coming up with tasks to help people feel useful and have a purpose can have a huge positive impact.

Talk to their doctor

If there’s no apparent physical cause of pain and the aggression is disruptive, talk a doctor about medications to help ease the patient’s distress. There are many medications available for anxiety, delusions, depression, and other psychiatric causes of aggressive behavior. It’s also possible that the aggressive behavior is being brought on by a medication they’re on.

Leave them be, but make sure they’ll be okay

If you’re leaving someone in bed, take steps to prevent bed sores. Rotate them frequently, either by hand or using an air mattress designed to do this. Help them to sit up and find comfortable positions, if they’ll allow it.

Written by Cori Carl
As Director, Cori is an active member of the community and regularly creates resources for people providing care.

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14 Comments

  1. My MIL will hit you and cuss you out! No easy way to clean her up, change her pull up, or change her clothes!

    Reply
  2. When have dealt with a father who was usually aggressive…You become desensitized to it.

    Reply
  3. Take a break step away and breathe/ relax

    Reply
  4. I’ve used most of these suggestions over the years, and when all else fails, I simly tell them that I’m going to leave, but I’ll be back later. You cannot argue with a Dementia/Alzheimer’s patient. It only creates stress and drama. Best to walk away, once you know they’re okay and not a danger to themselves.

    Reply
  5. Jeff Bunn and Wendie Munoz this really puts things into perspective

    Reply
  6. My suggestion, MARIJUANA

    Reply
    • Well it’s true. My husband suffered from Fronto Temporal dementia. All the meds they had him on, respridol, halperidol, nine kinds of other drugs, that most of the time made his symptoms worse. I took him off EVERYTHING that was’ prescribed’ started giving him marijuana, he was calmer, he ate better, slept better. … and those were his only symptoms. Maybe it’s not for everyone, but I’m telling you, it worked better for him than any of those heavy meds. He recently passed away in December, but I have NO regrets in making the last 3 months of his illness easier on him. Omg all you want, but I saw a difference in his symptoms, less aggression, less combative. Sleep cycles improved, I only had to use morphine the last 4 days he was alive. I don’t regret any of it!

      Reply
  7. Just this morning I noticed my husband being very loud and angry and then his right side started drooping becoming nonfunctional. I knew then he was having stroke like symptoms. Only lasted less than 5 minutes then he was back to normal. I’m guessing folks should look out for this as well when encountering anger.

    Reply
  8. Hide all sharp objects, speak calmly, and walk away if possible.

    Reply
  9. My MIL can get mean as a snake! Hitting, cussing, biting. You have to just walk away from her and try again later to get her cleaned up or whatever.

    Reply
  10. You handle it by redirecting them and talking it out. If they are being violent you stand back a little. Keep trying til you can reconnect. You don’t leave them.

    Reply

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