By Rick Phelps
Aggressive behavior, physical and mental abuse, hurting themselves or others—we hear of these stories all the time on here.
As a caregiver, what do you do? What can you do? Everyone who deals with these behaviors wants an answer.
The thing is, you can rarely do anything that will "fix" these behaviors. To make matters worse, these behaviors can, and usually, do get worse.
Many times caregivers and family members think they can take their loved ones to the doctor, who will do something that will somehow stop these outbursts.
The problem is, the only real way you can get a patient who is violent, abusive and aggressive to stop these actions is to medically subdue them.
In most instances, the only way to help is to medicate them so they cannot act out violently. No one wants their loved one to be drugged into a zombie-like state, but something has to be done. You can't just hope this gets better. Some people think they can simply place their loved ones in a long-term care facility when they can no longer handle them.
They quickly learn that these facilities will not put up with this type of behavior either. They cannot have a resident attacking other patients or their staff. If this does happen, the first time they will try to redirect the patient or do what they can (including medication changes) to prevent them from being abusive and acting out.
The second time around, they will demand the patient is discharged. There is no cut-and-dry solution to patients being aggressive. This is something that is not uncommon, but the patient cannot be blamed. In almost every situation, they don't have any idea what they are doing. However, that doesn't make this go away. When a patient first becomes violent in any way, it has to be dealt with.
You have to do something, because it will progress. In other words, if it starts out as verbal abuse, that can often turn into physical abuse.
First and foremost, make sure there are no firearms or weapons in the house of any kind. Even kitchen knives can be used as a weapon. Put them somewhere out of reach, where they can't be found, or in cabinet or drawer that can be secured.
Second, never assume these events are a one-time thing. Just be aware that you can never predict what a patient will do. Never. They are scared and confused, and they have a brain disease.
I have days when I am very agitated, but I have never been verbally or physically abusive. That could change at any time. Your dear loved one who wouldn't hurt a fly could become outraged over the littlest thing or a frightening delusion.
Just be aware and reach out to the professionals. This can't be ignored. There have been many cases of murder-suicides where a dementia patient was involved. So be aware and keep your loved one safe, even from themselves.
What I am going to tell you now will seem a bit over the top, but you need to think about this. When your loved one does show aggressive behavior, call your local law enforcement.
This is not done to have them arrested, but to help you get the assistance you and your loved one need. They know of resources that can help and can get you in touch with them. Many people think that if they get the law involved, it will just get their loved one in trouble.
It is not law enforcement’s job to put everyone in jail. If they are aware of the situation, there are many options they can offer. Justice is blind. If you do not let the local police know what is going on and they respond to a domestic violence call, things can and do escalate very quickly. They need to know what they are dealing with before they get there. They need to know that the person that they will be dealing with has dementia and has to be treated appropriately.
The same applies when contacting your local EMS. They, too, need to know about your loved one’s condition. Here in my local community, EMS workers always had a list of people we dealt with on a regular basis. This list included important notes, like diabetes or a child who has severe medical issues. If EMS is called to a house where a patient has dementia, knowing this can help them before they even get there.
Working with your local authorities can help immensely. Have an officer stop by simply so you can advise them that your loved one has dementia. They will then pass that info along to others on the police force who may come into contact with your loved one for whatever reason. This can be especially helpful if your loved one is prone to wandering.
This is something that is very easy to do and that can be beneficial if and when you ever need to call 911. When an emergency arises, there is chaos everywhere. When an emergency involves a dementia patient, things are always worse right from the start...