For caregivers, watching a loved one struggle with memory loss can be devastating. The aggression that sometimes accompanies memory loss can be even harder to grapple with—literally and figuratively. Sometimes people with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias lash out unexpectedly. It might be traced to a physical cause, like an uncomfortable infection that hasn’t been treated. It might be due to an environmental stress, like loud noises or a large crowd. Sometimes, though, it’s for no discernible reason. A new study from Lund University in Sweden found that one-third of patients with frontotemporal dementia or Alzheimer’s disease were physically aggressive toward healthcare staff, relatives, strangers and animals.
The study found that there are differences in aggression depending on the type of dementia. For people with frontotemporal dementia, physical aggression started early in their disease. The frontal parts of the brain control things like empathy, impulse, personality and judgment. Alzheimer’s, on the other hand, is located further back in the brain, in an area associated with memory and orientation in space and time. Patients with Alzheimer’s were more likely to be physically aggressive, though that behavior was less frequent, less violent, and less likely to be directed at strangers than behavior observed in those with frontotemporal dementia.
Twenty-one percent of physically aggressive patients with frontotemporal dementia directed their aggression at strangers, compared to two percent of Alzheimer’s patients.
Physical aggression or extreme changes in behavior can be an early sign of dementia. “If you notice socially deviant or criminal behavior in a person who has previously acted normally, you should be attentive and help the person get examined by a physician, as it could be the first sign of dementia,” said lead study author Madeleine Liljegren.
Read the full write-up here.