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  • Richy Gomez

Tips for Handling Combativeness in a Senior Loved One with Dementia



Aggression is a challenging behavior you may encounter when your senior loved one has dementia. Once your loved one is combative, he or she may attempt physical acts of aggression, such as pushing you away or even throwing objects in your direction. While you may know your loved one isn’t fully aware of these actions, it’s still frustrating and dangerous to face on a regular basis. Knowing how to prevent and manage combative moments can help you feel safer as a caregiver.


Avoid Rushing The Routine


Combative behavior tends to happen more often when seniors with dementia are stressed, and nothing is more stressful than being rushed to get ready. Try to start helping your loved one with tasks such as getting dressed long before he or she really needs to be ready, which helps you avoid having to repeatedly tell him or her what to do. With more time, you can try strategies such as redirecting your loved one’s attention to help him or her adjust to the idea of the task you’re trying to accomplish.


Establish Rapport


A person with dementia’s mood may be influenced by many factors, such as what’s on television or his or her current understanding of reality. For instance, your loved one may recognize you as his or her child and get angry that you’re trying to tell him or her what to do. You can counteract a negative mood or misunderstanding by taking a few minutes to just talk to your loved one before giving an instruction. Hold your loved one’s hand, make eye contact, and use other types of nonverbal language to establish a sense of trust.


Walk Away


When you’re alone with your loved one, you may have no choice but to walk away from the situation. However, first you always need to make sure he or she is safe. For instance, you may go to the bathroom to take a few deep breaths while your loved one is still sitting in his or her favorite chair and engaged in an activity. Just leaving for a few minutes may help you calm down, and your loved one may even forget about the incident and be ready to work with you when you come back.


Try Switching Caregivers


Once a senior becomes combative, it’s important to have multiple people you can turn to for help with his or her care. Switching caregivers can offer the possibility of shifting your loved one’s mindset. For example, if your loved is angry about you trying to tell him or her what to do, he or she may see an in-home caregiver as an authority figure and respond more calmly.


Practice Self-Care


Your role isn’t easy. In addition to all your responsibilities, you also have to face not knowing when your loved one may suddenly lash out. Be kind to yourself during this time. Respite care is an option that gives your loved one a different caregiver for a few hours while you take a break, allowing you to vent to your best friend over coffee, visit a professional counselor, or just enjoy a long, hot bath so you come back to your duties ready to handle anything that comes your way.

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