Alzheimer’s and Violent Behavior – Why it Happens and What to Do


personalityAlzheimer’s and Violent behavior – Why it happens and What to do

Sometimes people with Alzheimer’s become angry and aggressive. It may not happen often but occasionally some people become unruly and want to strike out. It happens for different reasons and should be handled accordingly.

Reasons why this may happen to your loved one:

  • New medication: In rare instances there may be a reaction to a new medication. So it’s always best to think of any changes that may have occurred for the patient in recent days; a new medication, a new food allergy, new supplement added to their diet. If any of these have occurred, contact their physician immediately.
  • More often, people with dementing illnesses simply have times when they become angry because of their feelings of loss and confusion and anxiety about their life being out of their control, new changes in their environment. And they no longer remember how they should respond. Instead, they act-out in anger.
  • They may be distressed because they have the need to talk and share their feelings of loss with a loved one who understands. They may need to hear that the caregiver understands their sorrow and anxiety and, hear again, that you care for them and only want what’s best for them.

If they continue to slam things around, throw food, yell profanity, refuse to shower or eat, and sometimes become physically violent by striking out at the caregiver, you may need to take different action. Fortunately, these incidents are not common for the Alzheimer’s or Dementia sufferers.

These explosive outbursts generally occur in the Middle-Stages of Alzheimer disease. A time when there have been many changes to their brain. Their power of reasoning and good choices is diminished. And Anger and Violent behavior becomes a catastrophic reaction and should be handled as any other catastrophic reaction.

It’s difficult to remember, sometimes, that the person with Alzheimers or dementia isn’t functioning with their full capacities and we can not take the things they do or say as personal slights against us. That was the hardest part for me, I spent many days crying because Mom had yelled at me or struck-out at me, thinking my Mom must surely hate me. It’s often called Caregiver’s guilt, when in fact–we shouldn’t feel guilty at all. We’re struggling every day to do the best we can.

Eventually, we were forced to move Mom to a “Group Home” that specialized in Alzheimer’s care. She lived 1/2 mile from me and I visited everyday. The only thing that changed was that her environment was more controlled and actually better acclimated to her current state of mind.

At home, before Mom was moved to the “Group Home,” she had become so unruly that there was no way for me to control her behavior. For all of her life, my Mom never had a mean bone in her body, but if I didn’t give her whatever she wanted immediately, she would slap me. She would slap hard with a closed fist and often leave bruises. I felt defenseless. This was my mother. I would not and could not raise a hand to her, yet she was so strong, I was unable able to restrain her even with a gentle bear hug.

I’ve heard it said that someone with Alzheimer’s doesn’t become violent unless they have a mean streak to begin with. I can absolutely tell you this is NOT true. My mom was as gentle as a woman could be. Her family, friends and neighbors for all of her life had known and loved her as a gentle, kind and loving woman. Neither my brothers nor I ever felt the sting of physical discipline even as children. She parented through example and respect rather than physical violence.

As difficult as it is for us to accept, Alzheimer’s is a dementing disease that affects the brain. People with a dementing illness can become anxious, nervous, depressed, angry and irritable. Since they don’t always know how to handle such extreme shifts in their own feelings, the person we knew can behave in ways that are totally foreign to their own personality. Sometimes they only need love and understanding to stop a flare-up of bad behavior. Loving kindness and understanding, a soft voice, gentle hug, and they may return to their previously good humor.

Once in awhile, as in my case, a person experiencing a catastrophic reaction will strike out and hit someone who is trying to help them. In this case, it is best not to restrain the person. That will only inflame them and escalate their angry behavior. But rather a soft voice and agreeable acceptance of their complaint is the better way to react, calming the situation.

If these flare-ups are common and continue, a physician should be consulted since they may be due to changes in the brain. In that case, there may be medications that will calm the patient.

If the caregiver has a young family with noisy and crying small children, this may not be the best environment for someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s who is anxious, nervous, restless and angry. In that case a Caregiver could certainly be at wit’s end most of the time trying to tend to her family and protect young ones from undo violent behavior. Likewise, if a caregiver is already caring for an aging spouse or someone else in ill-health, it may be too much stress to care for someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s. We need to examine our limitations carefully.

So every situation needs to be considered separately. Examine the reasons for the Alzheimer’s Patient’s anger and whether it can be easily and quickly calmed. But never endanger yourself, your family, or small children while coping with violence from an Alzheimer’s patient. If loving concern and caring does not calm their disposition, seek medical help from their physician.

Another resource for coping with unusual behavior is your local Alzheimer’s Association. They have access to many resources in your local area and can point you in the right direction immediately.


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  1. says

    The lady I care for is in the middle end stage of this horrific disease and has become very angry and abusive and likes to slam and throw things . Am I doing the right thing by calmly telling her, please don’t yell at me or can you tell me why you are so angry? Sometimes it puts her in check but other times she reverses the situation saying I am being mean to her and yelling at her. It’s becoming so hard emotionally that at times I yell back and doubt my caregiving abilities. Is leaving the situation and going outside to defuse the situation a good thing to do?

    • says

      Hello Tami,
      I certainly understand how you feel. It’s totally normal to feel as though you’re failing as a caregiver. But you are doing just fine for such dire circumstances. I took care of my Mom and know how you felt. It isn’t always easy and can leave us feeling so inadequate.

      If possible, I tried to ignore what Mom said and tried to veer her interest some other way. My mom would be accusing or yelling at me and I could say, “Mom, let’s go color.” And off she would go to find her coloring books.

      If you can change the subject, that always helps. Trying to change their mind, is almost impossible. But, if you are in any danger at all, you should definitely let someone know. Don’t risk your health; physically or emotionally. Take care of yourself too, Tami.

      Tami, I’m going to add your question to our Facebook Page also, and you will find many answers from others who’ve had the same problem.

      Here’s a link to our Page on Facebook where others will see and comment on your subject:

      My thoughts will be with you, and I certainly understand.
      Hope to see you on our Facebook Page


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