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As many as 60% of people with dementia will become combative at some point, expert says

Coverage of aging is supported in part by AARP Arizona

People living with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia may experience behavior changes, such as increased anger, as their condition progresses. For some families, it means sending their loved one to a behavioral-health unit specifically for dementia patients. 

"I would say that it can be about 50% to 60% of dementia patients will become combative at some point during those later years in life," said Cassandra Cote, director of behavioral health for Banner University and Banner Del E Webb Medical Centers. 

And it might require a stay at a behavioral-health unit geared toward this population. 

"And so when we bring them here, we are able to begin to treat those mood disorders or the mood disorders that are causing them to be aggressive with their caregivers, which is probably about 90% of the patients we treat," said Cote.

Cote says families are often caught off guard when these changes happen and may think it's their fault when in reality, they did nothing wrong.

"And so they can be verbally or physically aggressive with their caregiver who is just trying to, you know, help provide them a meal, or you know, maybe they are in diapers at that end stage of life, and they need that care to clean up. And it feels intrusive, it doesn't feel good, but they don't have the words to express," Cote said.

She says working with a psychiatrist early on could help families prepare for these changes. 

Cote says through behavioral programming or medication management, they are often able to get that person back on track so they can return home.

Senior field correspondent Kathy Ritchie has 20 years of experience reporting and writing stories for national and local media outlets — nearly a decade of it has been spent in public media.