NYMC Faculty Publications

Measurement of Agitation and Aggression in Adult and Aged Neuropsychiatric Patients: Review of Definitions and Frequently Used Measurement Scales

Journal Title

CNS Spectrums

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Publication Date

October 2017


Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences


Agitation and aggression in adult psychiatric patients with psychoses and in persons with dementia increase the burden of disease and frequently cause hospitalization. The implementation of currently available management strategies and the development of new ones is hindered by inconsistent terminology that confuses agitation with aggression. This confusion is maintained by many rating scales that fail to distinguish between these two syndromes. We review the frequently used rating scales with a particular focus on their ability to separate agitation from aggression. Agitation and aggression are two different syndromes. For example, reactive aggression is often precipitated by rejection of care and may not be associated with agitation per se. We propose, in treatment studies of behavioral symptoms of dementia and challenging behaviors in psychoses, that outcomes should be evaluated separately for agitation and aggression. This is important for investigation of drug effectiveness since the medication may be effective against one syndrome but not the other. Separate assessments of agitation and aggression should be a general principle of trial design with particular salience for registration studies of medications proposed for approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other regulatory bodies.