Open Access Research article

Attitudes of clinical staff toward the causes and management of aggression in acute old age psychiatry inpatient units

Terence V McCann1*, John Baird2 and Eimear Muir-Cochrane3

Author Affiliations

1 Discipline of Mental Health Nursing and Aged Care, College of Health and Biomedicine, Victoria University, PO Box 1428, Melbourne 8001, Victoria, Australia

2 NorthWestern Mental Health Old Aged Persons’ Mental Health Program, Harvester Building, 4C Devonshire Road, Sunshine 3020, Victoria, Australia

3 School of Nursing and Midwifery, Flinders University, GPO Box 2100, Adelaide, South Australia 5001, Australia

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BMC Psychiatry 2014, 14:80  doi:10.1186/1471-244X-14-80

Published: 19 March 2014



In psychiatry, most of the focus on patient aggression has been in adolescent and adult inpatient settings. This behaviour is also common in elderly people with mental illness, but little research has been conducted into this problem in old age psychiatry settings. The attitudes of clinical staff toward aggression may affect the way they manage this behaviour. The purpose of this study was to examine the attitudes of clinical staff toward the causes and management of aggression in acute old age psychiatry inpatient settings.


A convenience sample of clinical staff were recruited from three locked acute old age psychiatry inpatient units in Melbourne, Australia. They completed the Management of Aggression and Violence Scale, which assessed the causes and managment of aggression in psychiatric settings.


Eighty-five staff completed the questionnaire, comprising registered nurses (61.1%, n = 52), enrolled nurses (27.1%, n = 23) and medical and allied health staff (11.8%, n = 10). A range of causative factors contributed to aggression. The respondents had a tendency to disagree that factors directly related to the patient contributed to this behaviour. They agreed patients were aggressive because of the environment they were in, other people contributed to them becoming aggressive, and patients from certain cultural groups were prone to these behaviours. However, there were mixed views about whether patient aggression could be prevented, and this type of behaviour took place because staff did not listen to patients. There was agreement medication was a valuable approach for the management of aggression, negotiation could be used more effectively in such challenging behaviour, and seclusion and physical restraint were sometimes used more than necessary. However, there was disagreement about whether the practice of secluding patients should be discontinued.


Aggression in acute old age psychiatry inpatient units occurs occasionally and is problematic. A range of causative factors contribute to the onset of this behaviour. Attitudes toward the management of aggression are complex and somewhat contradictory and can affect the way staff manage this behaviour; therefore, wide-ranging initiatives are needed to prevent and deal with this type of challenging behaviour.

Aggression; Attitudes; Elderly; Old age psychiatry; Nurses; Restraint; Seclusion; Survey