My husband gets very aggressive and swears a great deal. What do I do?

Aggressive behavior is one of the most disturbing behaviors in someone who has Alzheimer’s disease. It can make homecare extremely difficult and is a common reason why a loved one may be placed in a nursing home. Fortunately, steps can be taken to help prevent and treat aggression in a loved one with Alzheimer’s. Someone who has Alzheimer’s may go through periods of swearing, screaming, throwing objects, resisting care, or attempting to hit others. Verbal assaults are more common than physical ones. Fortunately, such hostile behaviors are usually temporary.

Disruptions commonly occur if a person with Alzheimer’s feels their personal space has been invaded, for example, during dressing, bathing, or a doctor’s appointment. It’s important to understand that someone with Alzheimer’s is more likely to misinterpret certain actions and respond aggressively. Aggression can also arise as a result of a physical illness such as constipation or infection, pain, depression or anxiety, or lack of sleep

What to Do

It’s important that a doctor evaluate the person with Alzheimer’s to identify any physical complaints that may be contributing to the problem that the person with Alzheimer’s isn’t able to communicate to you. You must become a good listener to both verbal and nonverbal forms of communication.  Their body language may tell you more than their words.

Here is a method that many caregivers have found helpful.  Keep a written journal.  Write down what happened just before an outburst, how the person acted, and what your response or action was. The journal should also list how often aggressive behaviors occur and what, if anything, reduced the outbursts. You may identify certain patterns/events that set off the aggressive behavior, and what responses by you worked to calm them down. For example, if a loved one becomes combative when trying to decide what to eat or wear, you can limit the choices available. Rather than asking, “What would you like for lunch?” simply prepare a sandwich and say, “Here’s a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch.  I know how much you like them.”

Despite your best efforts, outbursts will still occur. Try your best to remain calm. Do not argue or punish the person. He or she may not be able to remember the incident or be able to learn from it because of the nature of Alzheimer’s.  If all else fails and their combative behavior continues, you should consult their doctor who can prescribe a medication to reduce their agitation.