Senior woman with dementia appears upset and is comforted on couch by husband and caregiver.

How to Handle Dementia and Anger in Seniors

Last updated on January 06, 2023

Anger is a normal human emotion in all of us, but Alzheimer’s disease and dementia can dramatically exacerbate anger issues in seniors. You may have recently been on the other end of a traumatic verbal or physical outburst from someone with dementia. You may have been confused or upset and didn’t know how to handle the situation.

The first step is understanding the root cause of these intense feelings so you can respond effectively and resolve the situation compassionately.

Common Anger Triggers in People With Alzheimer’s and Dementia

Although aggressive behavior may seem spontaneous, there is often a legitimate reason — or multiple motives. Anger from Alzheimer’s and dementia is often related to the following triggers:

  • Physical
    Your loved one may be angry due to pain, discomfort, soreness, dizziness, nausea, or exhaustion — or they may become frustrated by the inability to do simple physical tasks. If you observe a loved one getting angry more frequently or showing signs of discomfort, schedule a visit with their doctor to rule out any underlying conditions.

  • Emotional
    Overstimulation is a common cause of anger and aggression in people with Alzheimer’s or dementia. A loud environment, background noise from a TV or radio, or even too much conversation can cause a person with dementia or Alzheimer’s to become angry. Feelings of loss, loneliness, sadness, or boredom can also trigger emotions.

  • Mental
    Confusion is one of the leading causes of anger and aggression in people with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Confusion can arise from a lost train of thought, going to a new place, meeting new people, mixed-up memories, too many choices, or a sudden change in the environment, such as a shift from one caregiver to another.

7 Strategies for Handling Anger and Dementia

The more you can understand your loved one’s triggers, the easier to predict and manage anger outbursts. However, it isn’t possible to avoid every outburst, so you need to be prepared when it happens.

Here are seven strategies you can use:

  1. Don’t take it personally
    When your loved one lashes out, it can hurt emotionally and sometimes physically. It may help to remember your loved one isn’t being hurtful on purpose; their condition is responsible for the outbursts.

  2. Solve the problem
    If you can determine the cause of your loved one’s distress, it may be possible to alleviate or solve the issue. You can stop an angry outburst from worsening and often help them feel calmer.

  3. Avoid physical contact
    NEVER react to violence with force unless your safety or someone else’s safety is threatened. Taking physical control of someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia may make them angrier and more aggressive.

  4. Remain calm
    Although it may be difficult, use a calm tone of voice and avoid outward displays of distress, anger, or fear. If you show your loved one you are angry or upset, their anguish and agitation may worsen.

  5. Step away from the situation
    If possible, remove yourself from the room or situation. Give yourself and your loved one time to calm down. This will make it easier for you to react appropriately and may defuse or dispel their anger.

  6. Be kind and reassuring at all times
    Do not argue. Instead, be sympathetic and accepting of their anger and frustration.

  7. Don’t punish
    It’s important to remember that people with Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other memory disorders should not be punished or chastised for anger or aggressive outbursts. This is one of the most common mistakes loved ones and untrained caregivers make. In addition to living with a condition they cannot control, your loved one may not understand why they are being punished or reprimanded and may even forget the outburst happened.

Alzheimer’s or Dementia Support is Available

When caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s and dementia, taking time to care for yourself is crucial. If you are feeling burned out, stressed, anxious or upset, your loved one will be able to sense your distress, which could increase the risk of angry outbursts.

Visiting Angels can be invaluable if you need support in caring for your loved one. Many Visiting Angels’ caregivers have personal and professional experience in Alzheimer’s and dementia care and can provide respite care that fits your schedule.

Learn more through a free home care consultation. Contact your nearest home care office today!

If you're interested in our compassionate home care services for you or a loved one, contact your nearest Visiting Angels home care agency today or call 800-365-4189.
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