Aggression and Agitation in Dementia

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This article reviews the treatment of aggression and agitation in dementia. Both nonpharmacologic and pharmacologic approaches to responsive behaviors are discussed. Practical treatment strategies are applied to common behavioral symptoms.


Aggressive and agitated behavior is common in dementia. Behavioral symptoms lead to reduced quality of life and distress for both patients and caregivers. They can also lead to poor outcomes and are associated with significant financial implications for the individual and health care system. A wide range of difficult behaviors exists, with limited evidence for deciding on treatment. Clinicians should integrate the available evidence with practical and commonsense strategies to target these difficult-to-treat behaviors.


Treating aggression and agitation in dementia is challenging. Viewing behaviors as a response to either internal or external stimuli can help guide treatment. Treatment should emphasize nonpharmacologic approaches as an initial step, using practical and commonsense strategies. Caregivers and family should be actively involved in the planning and implementation of behavioral plans. It is essential to minimize both medical and nonmedical factors that may be contributing to behaviors. When pharmacologic options are required, it is important to choose medications that will target specific behavioral goals, having both practical consideration and the best evidence in mind.

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