What can I do to protect our dogs from my husband's dementia related aggression?

3 answers | Last updated: Sep 21, 2016
Birdi asked...

My husband was diagnosed with frontal temporal dementia approximately 2 and 1/2 years ago at the age of 61. He has never been violent but he is easily aggitated and cusses alot. Recently, he has started yelling,kicking at, and swinging his walking stick at my house dogs, both which are under 10 lbs. (One is under 5 lbs.) I cannot bear to part with my dogs as they have been members of my family for 10 years and are a great source of comfort for me during these very difficult times; but if he makes contact with his boot or stick he could seriously injure or even kill them. I try to keep the dogs in the back yard on pretty days which does help keep them separated some, but they're house dogs and I can't leave them out all the time. Any suggestions?

Expert Answers

Joanne Koenig Coste is a nationally recognized expert on Alzheimer's care and an outspoken advocate for patient and family care. She is the author of Learning to Speak Alzheimer's. Also, she currently is in private practice as an Alzheimer's family therapist. Ms. Koenig Coste also serves as President of Alzheimer Consulting Associates, implementing state-of-the-art Alzheimer care throughout the United States.

It is difficult enough to be the caregiver of a family member with Frontal Temporal Dementia (FTD) without the added anxiety of having to protect your pets. This must be so discouraging for you since caring appropriately for your husband will most likely mean putting your dogs in harm's way.
Hallmarks of FTD include aggressive behaviors that seem to have no reason and acting out inappropriately in situations with a kind of angry agitation that would never have occured before this daignosis. Your husband appears to be exhibiting these symptoms. There is little you can do short of referring to his physician for medications that will help control these negative behaviors. You could try one of this group of meds with the goal of using low dosage for a short time to see if it helps to control his negativity toward the pets. Trying to reason with him unfortunately will not produce the results you want so you need an alternative way to do the best for both hubby and doggies. I would suggest that, until his aggression toward your pets is controlled, you try alternative placement for your dogs either with friends or family members or at a good kennel that provides short term 'vacations'. Once your husband's behavior becomes positive, the pets can return to you without fear of their demise. I wish you well.

Community Answers

Birdi answered...

Thanks for your response. I had thought about sending the dogs to someone else, but really have no one to send them to right now,but am looking for a temporary place for them. Can you tell me your best "guestimate" on how long this aggression toward the dogs will take to turn positive? I also have 2 more questions. I know that Alzheimers and FTD are both types of dementia, but I hope you can tell me if the stages and symptoms are about the same with the 2 types? What are the main differences in the 2 types of dementia and my last question is the one he seems most concerned about: With FTD is he likely to forget his family and become very aggressive or unresponsive in the end. Thank you so much for your help in answering my questions. Birdi

Julian dodd answered...

Hi Birdi Joanne mentioned the use of medication to help with your husbands aggression. This approach has had some bad press recently but there is some good work being done. The American Journal of psychiatry recently reported on a study into the effect of Lamotrigine (a medicine for frontal lobe epilepsy) and found that it could greatly reduce the aggression associated with frontal lobe dementia. Most people don't experience any problems while taking lamotrigine, but mild side effects can still occur. Common side effects include dizziness, nausea, and coordination problems, these do however usually decrease afer two weeks of starting the medication and are considered to be much better than the side effects of old fashioned dementia meds . If you decide to approach your doctor please let us know how you get on. Bright blessings J