Caregiving Tips for Dealing with Feisty Patients

Challenges of Caregiving

One of the challenges of caring for those with dementia or declining mental faculties is the risk of physical assault from the patient. These attacks can often occur unprovoked and can take the caregiver completely by surprise. When faced with this possibility, caregivers can take precautions to protect themselves, but also to protect the health and future care of the patient themselves. Unsurprisingly, a report that a patient tends to be feisty or even violent can be seriously detrimental to the quality of care they receive in the future, once the foundation of trust that is vitally important to the caregiver-patient relationship has been violated.

Working with a patient who has a history of violence can be a daunting task for even the most veteran of caregivers. These tips should serve to keep you and the patient safe and should help to maintain a healthy, trusting relationship.                     

Patience is a Virtue, and Crucially Important

Patience is a virtue displayed by the best caregivers. They have the capacity to recognize any offensive words or actions as a symptom of mental illness. Whenever faced with a difficult or stressful patient interaction, a good caregiver will take a step back and remove personal feelings from the equation. Remember that the balance of power in the relationship is one-sided and that a patient depends fully on the patience and understanding of the caregiver. It is important in getting to the bottom of any feistiness displayed.

Something that is innate to the passionate caregiver is the ability to empathize. This trait that allows caring and understanding is crucial to those serving in any hospitality industry but is tantamount to establishing a relationship with a patient suffering from dementia. Empathizing with a patient will allow the caregiver to understand the feelings behind any violence or verbal abuse and understanding the nature of the problem helps not only the patient but you to cope.

Keeping Personal Safety in Mind

elderly man staring out window

A helpful tip for dealing with feisty patients is always to pay attention to the surrounding environment. A patient with an established history of lashing out at those providing them care can cause a great deal of harm, and so a caregiver should maintain a state of alertness. Keep an eye out for heavy objects nearby, such as lamps or vases, and, if possible, try to attend to the patient in an area free of potential weapons.

Keeping yourself safe while on the job is of vital importance. Safety should always be a priority, and a professional caregiver will keep that in mind while performing their duties. Try to keep yourself out of vulnerable situations, and always have one eye on the patient, especially if they have a history of violent behavior. Make sure to alert your agency of anything that makes you feel unsafe and work with them to develop strategies to maintain safety in your working environment.

Responsibilities of Caregiving

As difficult as it can be to deal with a patient who has just assaulted you physically, also remember the position of responsibility you are in when accepting the duty of caring for the patient. It may be hard to do, but it is critical to adhere to professional standards of care. While removing yourself from a stressful or intense situation can help you calm down, there is still a person who needs care no matter how much they may protest it.

Remember to Care for Yourself, Too        


Remember to watch out for your mental health and make sure to maintain a healthy work/life balance. It is easy to let the demanding nature of caregiving completely take over your life, and you will find that the idea of "burning out" is all too real. Having a hobby that keeps you busy outside of work can help to put everything in perspective and cut down on personal stress. Keep in mind that you too are human and have needs that should be attended to as well.

senior woman

Final Thoughts

The important things to remember when dealing with feisty patients are patience, empathy, awareness, responsibility, safety and self-health. Keeping these factors in mind will help to create and maintain a successful patient-caregiver relationship and hopefully lead to progress and healing. Taking on the role of providing care for a patient with dementia or another mental disorder is a noble effort, and indeed no small task. When the patient has an abrasive attitude or a history of lashing out, it can make the job challenging, but even more rewarding when those challenges are successfully navigated.

Stacey Warren