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Esther Heerema, MSW

The Challenge of Combative Behavior

By February 10, 2013

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Not everyone who has Alzheimer's disease will develop challenging behaviors, but according to the Alzheimer's Association, about 90% will experience at least one behavior or mood difficulty, often during the middle stages of the disease. One of those challenging behaviors is combativeness, or physical aggression.

When people with Alzheimer's or another dementia become combative, they might strike out, push, hit or kick others. While there are rare occasions when there's no discernible trigger for that behavior, usually there are specific reasons why the person reacted that way. These can include:

The most common reason for someone to become combative is the provision of care. To understand why this might be, try looking at things from her perspective. Even though you're trying to help your loved one, she might not understand what it is that you're doing it and why you're bothering her. Remember that she's not choosing to resist your help just to be difficult; rather she's reacting to what she's feeling, thinking and experiencing.

Resources on Behavior Challenges and Dementia

Common Scenarios and Examples of Helpful Responses to Combative Behavior

Practical Non-Drug Tips for Responding to Challenging Behaviors

Paranoia and Delusions in Dementia

When People with Dementia Hoard

Wandering: Preventing and Responding

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