What Triggers Aggression in Men with Alzheimer’s?

Angry elderly manDear Kirsten,

My father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease two years ago. The neurologist told us at the time that my Dad was in the early stages of the disease. The doctor started Dad on a medication that has been shown to slow the progression of the disease in some people.

Until recently, my mother has been able to manage his symptoms on her own and keep him with her at home. Lately, however, he has been getting aggressive. He was never a violent person before this. My mom is a fairly tiny person and I’m starting to have concerns that he will hurt her. My dad’s older sister is in the later stages of Alzheimer’s disease and she was never aggressive at all. It makes me wonder if there is something we aren’t doing right or if there is another reason for this behavior?

Denise in Grand Junction, Colorado

Dear Denise:

I know this must be a difficult time. Alzheimer’s disease takes a terrible toll on families who often feel powerless watching their loved one’s struggle. Aggression is one of the most difficult behaviors to manage, and it is more common among men than women. Men with Alzheimer’s disease are 30% more likely to act aggressively with caregivers and family than women are.

While researchers are not entirely sure what causes men to be aggressive, they have a few ideas:

  • Unmet needs: Because people with Alzheimer’s disease often lose their verbal skills, they have difficulty communicating their needs with family and caregivers. Being thirsty, hungry, tired or in pain are believed to be common triggers for aggression.

  • Overstimulated: The damage the disease causes to the brain makes it hard for a person with Alzheimer’s to process too much information at once. When they are confronted by too much stimulation, they may strike out in frustration. It can be anything from a hectic environment, crowds, loud music or something similar that is causing the problem.

  • Medication issues: Another potential cause you can explore is that the behavior is being caused by a problem with their medications. Older adults process medicine differently than younger adults do. It leads to higher rates of adverse reactions and drug interactions. Talk with your loved one’s primary care physician and pharmacist to get advice.

One suggestion that might help manage your father’s aggression is to encourage your mother keep a journal of your dad’s day. Have her note how much sleep he had the night before, what activities he was a part of, his diet, the environment and all of the details of the day. It may help you to pinpoint what your dad’s specific triggers are.

I hope this information is helpful to you, Denise! I wish you and your family all the best as you try to safely manage your father’s illness.


Need more advice on caring for your loved one with Alzheimer's? Contact us at 970.204.6977 today! From personal care needs and case management to guardianship concerns, Seniors in Transition provides consulting services to help families turn frustrating health care problems into quality, affordable solutions. Seniors in Transition is here to help families in the Fort Collins, CO and Loveland, CO areas.

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