Staff-reported antecedents to aggression in a post-acute brain injury treatment programme: What are they and what implications do they have for treatment?


Research in psychiatric settings has found that staff attribute the majority of in-patient aggression to immediate environmental stressors. We sought to determine if staff working with persons with brain injury-related severe and chronic impairment make similar causal attributions. If immediate environmental stressors precipitate the majority of aggressive incidents in this client group, it is possible an increased focus on the management of factors that initiate client aggression may be helpful. The research was conducted in a low-demand treatment programme for individuals with chronic cognitive impairment due to acquired brain injury. Over a six-week period, 63 staff and a research assistant reported on 508 aggressive incidents. Staff views as to the causes of client aggression were elicited within 72 hours of observing an aggressive incident. Staff descriptions of causes were categorised using qualitative methods and analysed both qualitatively and quantitatively. Aggression towards staff was predominantly preceded by (a) actions that interrupted or redirected a client behaviour, (b) an activity demand, or (c) a physical intrusion. The majority of aggressive incidents appeared hostile/angry in nature and were not considered by staff to be pre-meditated. Common treatment approaches can be usefully augmented by a renewed focus on interventions aimed at reducing antecedents that provoke aggression. Possible approaches for achieving this are considered.


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