Tips & Advice: Aggressive Behavior and FTD

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One of FTD’s more troubling symptoms is the emergence of uncharacteristically aggressive behavior. Every case of FTD is different; and while aggression may not develop, it is still worth considering an approach for handling it just in case.

While aggression can be distressing, try not to take it personally; the person diagnosed isn’t actually mad at you. FTD affects the areas of the brain that regulate behavior, which can cause persons diagnosed to lash out when frustrated, confused, or in physical pain.

For example, a person with FTD may respond aggressively if told they can no longer do an activity they used to do regularly, such as driving. Aggression may also occur if the person diagnosed cannot understand a request from their care partner or is unable to complete a simple task.

Overstimulation is a common trigger for aggression; loud sounds, bright lights, or hectic group activities can be overwhelming for somebody with FTD, which in turn can trigger hostile behavior. Undesired physical contact, such as a shoulder tap or back pat, can also cause aggression.

Care partners can work to minimize aggressive behavior by avoiding such triggers, maintaining an FTD-friendly daily routine, and creating contingency plans in case the person diagnosed becomes disruptive. You can also discuss medications with medical professionals on your care team.  

To prevent overstimulation, try to keep the lighting in your home dimmed and the volume on the TV or other devices low. Avoid having too many guests over at once. If the person with FTD has an injury or another illness causing them pain, provide pain relief medication or other forms of treatment to help alleviate discomfort.

Avoid undesired physical contact; if contact is necessary, and if it is viable to do so, get permission from the person with FTD before touching them. Additionally, when making requests of someone with FTD, try to keep your instructions as simple as possible to prevent frustration.

When aggression does occur, do not become combative in return; this will make the situation much worse. Use a calm tone of voice, smile, and try to be reassuring. Instead of trying to argue that you are right or that they are being unreasonable, validate their emotions and offer support. Give the person with FTD plenty of space, and move to another room if you need to.

Do not hesitate to call 911 if you or the person with FTD are at risk, but make sure that you notify the dispatcher that the person you are calling about has a form of dementia.

Carefully document the details regarding occurrences of aggressive behavior, including the events leading up to the onset of aggression. This can help identify potential triggers and can provide valuable information to the medical professionals on your care team.

For more information on aggressive behavior and FTD, read the Spring 2014 issue of Partners in FTD Care or AFTD’s Managing Aggressive Behavior in FTD flyer.

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