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Managing Dementia-Related Anger in Older People

We all experience anger at various times, letting off steam when we feel frustrated or threatened. However, in most cases, the feelings subside relatively quickly, and our emotions level off, which helps us achieve a calmer state.

Alzheimer’s disease and dementia can dramatically increase the level of anger in older people due to the changes in the person’s brain caused by the condition. As a family caregiver, you might feel helpless or upset when you find yourself on the other end of a traumatic verbal or physical outburst from an older loved one with dementia, especially if you’re unsure about how to manage it.

Resolving the situation with caring and compassion is possible when you know how to de-escalate their anger and the root cause of those intense emotions.

What can trigger anger in people with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia?

Aggressive outbursts might seem as if they happen out of the blue, but there is often a legitimate yet unseen reason behind them.

For example, progressive cognitive conditions such as dementia can trigger episodes of confusion. A simple lost train of thought, becoming overwhelmed by too many choices, or a sudden change in their environment or routine can all cause a sudden, unexpected burst of anger.

Their condition can also exacerbate existing emotional states, such as senses of loneliness, sadness, boredom, or loss, triggering an outburst. Overstimulation from a loud environment, background noise, or even conversation between others may bring about bouts of impatience and anger from your loved one.

The person may also be in physical pain or experiencing dizziness, nausea, exhaustion, or frustration that their condition has changed their ability to do simple physical tasks.

In some cases, people with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia experience difficulty expressing how they’re feeling, potentially upsetting them to the point of lashing out.

Witnessing an episode of verbal or physical anger can be alarming, but a peaceful response rooted in love and empathy will help restore your environment to one of peace and calm.

How to manage dementia-related anger in your older loved one

Understanding the root causes of anger in older people may help you predict what might trigger an episode and take steps to avoid it. However, there will likely still be bursts of anger that seemingly come out of nowhere.

Here are some tips that will help you de-escalate a situation when it arises:

Remain calm

Your loved one may say or do things that appear to be attempts to hurt you physically or emotionally. Keep a cool head by reminding yourself that the disease is causing the outburst and your loved one isn’t doing it on purpose. Avoid displaying distress, anger, or fear, as doing so may increase their level of agitation.

Do not use physical contact

Never respond to violence with physical force unless your safety or that of someone else is in danger. Striking, restraining, or using other physical means of controlling the person might make them angrier and more aggressive.

Listen to them and be reassuraing

Avoid the temptation to argue with them or be defensive. Listen to them with empathy and compassion and accept their anger and frustration. Always use a calm, soothing tone of voice when addressing the person without chastising or criticizing their behaviour. Let them know that you understand they’re upset and that you’re there to help.

Determine and solve the trigger

If you can identify what caused the outburst, you may be able to solve the trigger and stop the angry outburst. For example, turning down the volume on a too-loud radio, pulling down the blind on a window causing glare, or moving them to a calmer, more comfortable space might alleviate their frustration.

Try redirection

Redirection is a strategy used by many professional caregivers to redirect the person’s attention to something more pleasant. For example, if your loved one is upset because they can’t find something, gently suggest you both look for it later and offer to do a puzzle or sing a song together. Changing focus can quickly transform a potentially dangerous situation into a joyful one.

Remove yourself from the situation

If it is safe to do so, remove yourself from the room to give you both some time to calm down. This approach will make it easier to dispel their anger upon your return. However, we recommend not leaving them alone if there is a risk they will hurt themselves or someone else – don’t hesitate to call 911 for assistance in cases where someone could get badly hurt.

Your loved one is living with a progressive cognitive condition that they cannot control. They may not even remember having an outburst, so once the situation is resolved, refrain from dwelling on it or bringing it up again. The best strategy is to learn from it so you can be further prepared should an angry outburst reoccur.

Remember, you don’t have to go through this alone. The CareHop team is always ready to provide professional eldercare services that support both you and your loved one when you need them.

Quality in-home elder care services in Etobicoke, Mississauga, and Brampton

CareHop specializes in providing safe, professional eldercare services, including on-demand Alzheimer’s disease and dementia care, that bring peace of mind to families who need support.

We also offer other in-home elder care services such as homemaking and meal preparation, personal care, activities, and casual companionship that help ensure your loved one gets all the professional care they need.

Contact us today for a free, no-obligation discussion to discover how we can help you with safe, cost-effective eldercare solutions.

About the Author

Michael Lu is the founder of CareHop. He started the business inspired by his Grandmother to look at ageing as a happy experience to bring sunshine into the homes of others.

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