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Managing Contentious Behaviors in Loved Ones with Dementia

Written by Alissa Sauer
 about the author
2 minute readLast updated April 20, 2023

Most people think of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia as a brain disease. While dementia affects the brain, it also brings a myriad of other symptoms including personality changes. These behaviors can include extreme anger and even violence, which can, in turn, create additional caregiver stress. Learn more about behavioral changes in Alzheimer’s and how to manage contentious behaviors in loved ones with dementia to keep the peace.

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Dementia and personality changes

While dementia is a neurodegenerative disorder, most caregivers would agree that it affects the entire person, not just their brain or their memory. The changes in personality are largely due to the fact that Alzheimer’s actually kills brain cells, decreasing cognitive ability.
In addition to the disease, some medications used to treat other symptoms can cause behavior changes. These destructive behaviors can cause severe stress for the caregiver.
While every dementia diagnosis is unique in its progression, these personality changes are usually seen in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s and manifest themselves in several ways including repetitive or compulsive behavior, delusions and suspicions. In some cases, personality changes can be seen earlier and even be a sign of the early stages of dementia.

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Our free tool provides options, advice, and next steps based on your unique situation.

Ways to manage contentious behavior and create peace

Marie Marley, award winning author of Come Back Early Today: A Memoir of Love, Alzheimer’s and Joy recently shared how she coped with her husband’s difficult behaviors as a result of his dementia with the Huffington Post.
In the article, she opened up about his personality changes which came early, before an actual diagnosis. He became angry, drinking more often, and emotionally abusive. In an effort to get him help, she asked her friend who is a geriatric social worker for advice. The advice she received worked to ease the anger and the fights:
  • Avoid topics that you think will upset your loved one.
  • Change the topic, if your loved one becomes agitated.
  • Do not argue with your loved one. Agree with everything they say, even if it doesn’t make sense.
Marley admits that following this advice was harder than it sounded and she would often forget to follow them but that when she did, her husband’s anger was mitigated. She says:
“When I finally mastered all three strategies, the results were dramatic. The number of nasty arguments decreased significantly and our closeness returned to its former state, which was a blessing after so many months of constant unbearable bickering.”


Meet the Author
Alissa Sauer

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