As your loved one ages, you may notice that their personality changes. Some seniors, especially those with some form of dementia, even exhibit aggressive behaviors. You may find that your normally mild-mannered parent is yelling, swearing, or lashing out at you verbally or physically. This can be extremely difficult, to say the least. But there are ways you can help both you and your loved one deal with, and ultimately minimize, these aggressive behaviors.
Things to keep in mind when caring for someone with aggressive behaviors
It’s not about you
Many aggressive behaviors are triggered by dementia, which makes communication difficult and frustrating. Your parent might not be able to tell you that they are in pain, that the light is too bright, or that they are hungry. They may not be able to express feelings of loneliness or anxiety. This inability to communicate can make them lash out at the person nearest to them. Aggressive behaviors may also be caused by medications, or by frustration due to memory loss. Talk to your loved one’s doctor about what might be causing your loved one’s behavior.
You will learn to deal with it
Don’t beat yourself up if your first response to Dad’s aggressive behavior was less than ideal. Over time you will learn how to react in a way that defuses the situation. Focus on breathing deeply and staying calm, even if that means you need to step away for a minute. Keep a log of when the aggressive behavior occurs. Note down the time of day and what was going on at the time. You may be able to pinpoint triggers that set off the aggressive behavior. Many seniors with aggressive behaviors, for example, have more difficulty in the evening hours. You can then try to make that time of day as easy as possible for your loved one. You might limit or encourage visitors, put a favorite movie on, or keep the lights low. You will probably need to experiment to see what works best.
Come up with distractions
Experiment to see which distractions will work for your loved one when they begin to exhibit aggressive behaviors. Try popping in some favorite music, looking at a photo album with them, or asking them to go for a walk. Make sure all their physical needs are met. Hunger, thirst, needing to use the bathroom, feeling too hot or cold, or being tired are frequent triggers.
It is okay to need a break
Caring for someone with aggressive behaviors is hard work. It is normal to feel frustrated and underappreciated. You will need frequent breaks to avoid burnout. Ask for help from other family members, members of your parent’s church, their friends, and anyone else you can think of. This is not a time to do everything on your own. As a bonus, the increased social activity may decrease some aggressive behaviors by keeping your loved one busy and engaged.
You will need self-care strategies
Make sure your basic needs are being met and indulge in a healthy dose of self-care. Exercise regularly, get enough sleep, and eat well. You will likely find that you have more energy for taking care of the rest of your life and your loved one. Join a support group for other caregivers if you can. Make a list of people you can call when you need a break. Brainstorm quick things you can do to relax, like grabbing a cup of coffee on the porch or texting a friend. Sometimes, just having someone to vent to is enough.
It is okay not to be able to do it
Not everyone is capable of caring for a person with aggressive behaviors at home. You may not be physically strong enough. You may find it is damaging your relationship with your parent. Your caregiving duties may not allow you to focus on your other priorities, such as work and your children. Don’t feel guilty about considering outside help, whether in the form of a home health aide or an assisted living facility. A change in living situation may well be the best choice for both you and your loved one.
You’re not alone
Remember, there are resources throughout the community that can help you find solutions. Whether it is to bring in home care so that you may take a few hours off or seek placement options into memory care communities, Total Senior can help connect you with all the options available.