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Understanding Dementia and Anger Outbursts

Understanding Dementia and Anger Outbursts

If you are caring for an elderly loved one or parent with dementia, it’s normal to feel shocked or hurt when they lash out at you unexpectedly.

To help you navigate the challenges of caring for a loved one with this condition, we’ll cover some of the common causes of anger in dementia patients and share coping tips for caregivers.

Plus, we’ll share how our team at Always Best Care Senior Services and our dementia care services can help your loved one with this condition.

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Exploring Dementia and Anger Outbursts

As dementia progresses, individuals with this condition may show signs of angry behavior, including:

  • Raising their voice
  • Yelling or screaming
  • Using foul language
  • Throwing things
  • Physically or verbally hurting their caregiver or loved ones

In fact, a recent study found that 90% of dementia patients display aggression — any behavior that can cause harm toward a person or animal.

Caring for a loved one with behavioral changes due to dementia demands patience, understanding, and coping strategies to support both the patient and the caregiver’s well-being.

Common Causes of Anger in Dementia Patients

Anger can stem from different causes, such as physical discomfort and other environmental triggers. If your loved one with dementia is angry, try to identify what might be causing this behavior change.

Common causes of anger in dementia patients include:

  • Physical discomfort: Pain, whether from an injury or prolonged sitting, can significantly affect the behavior of individuals with dementia.
  • Stress: Dementia can make everyday situations, such as bathing or dressing, feel overwhelmingly complex and stressful. This heightened stress level can cause dementia patients to react aggressively.
  • Depression: Depression, characterized by feelings of sadness or hopelessness, can sometimes trigger aggressive behavior.
  • Constipation: Constipation can cause aggressive reactions, such as verbal outbursts, as the discomfort can aggravate feelings of distress.
  • Sudden change in a well-known place or routine: For dementia patients, familiarity can offer comfort and security. Disruptions to routine can confuse them, triggering aggression as they struggle to adjust to unexpected changes.
  • Too much noise or too many people in the room: Sensory overload from loud noises, chaotic environments, or crowds can overwhelm a dementia patient’s cognitive abilities. This overstimulation can trigger a fight-or-flight response, often manifesting as aggression.
  • Loss of recognition: Dementia and being mean to family are related. Individuals with dementia sometimes don’t recognize familiar faces, leading to fear, anxiety, and even aggression. For example, if your mom has dementia, she might react aggressively toward your dad, thinking he’s a stranger.
  • Poor diet: A recent study found that poor nutrition, specifically high levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol, can cause dementia patients to experience sudden outbursts of aggression.
An elderly couple having a disagreement​
Causes of aggression in dementia patients include physical discomfort, stress, or poor nutrition​

In What Stage of Dementia Do Patients Experience Anger?

Your elderly loved one may experience anger and aggression from the middle to the later stages of dementia. This occurs as they deal with increased confusion, frustration, and communication challenges, such as misunderstandings.

As their condition progresses, they find it more difficult to understand and manage their emotions, leading to sudden outbursts of anger or aggression.

How to Care for an Elderly Parent with Dementia Anger Outbursts

Caring for an elderly parent with dementia, especially when faced with anger outbursts, requires patience, understanding, and a structured approach to daily life.

Here are methods on how you can support your elderly parent during their outbursts:

  • Stay calm: Keep yourself calm by taking slow, deep breaths. Staying calm can help your loved one feel more at ease and reduce their anxiety and aggression.
  • Allow your loved one to keep as much control in their life: Empower your elderly parent to make choices and decisions to preserve their sense of autonomy. By fostering an environment where they can continue to exercise their independence, you can help recognize and respect their right to personal choice, even as their cognitive abilities decline.
  • Avoid arguments: Do not engage in debates or confrontations with your loved one, as it can cause frustration or confusion. For example, you can say “I see you’re upset,” to validate their feelings without making the situation worse.
  • Create a safe space for your loved one: Regularly check your loved one’s environment to eliminate potential hazards that could cause injury during an outburst. Make sure their home is comfortable and clutter-free to prevent accidents.
  • Decorate your loved one’s home with familiar objects and photographs: Enhance your loved one’s space with familiar objects and images they love to help evoke positive memories.
  • Make sure your loved one is comfortable: Adjust lighting, reduce background noise, and remove unnecessary distractions that can overwhelm your loved one. Creating a tranquil environment can help minimize agitation.
  • Prepare a balanced meal for your loved one: Make sure your loved one eats a balanced diet to improve their physical health and mood. Incorporate proteins, carbohydrates, healthy fats, and dairy products into their diet.
  • Limit your loved one’s caffeine intake: Reduce your loved one’s caffeine consumption, as it can aggravate anxiety.
  • Establish a consistent daily routine for your loved one: Create a structured daily routine to help reduce your loved one’s confusion and anxiety.
  • Identify and address your loved one’s triggers: Observe and note what can trigger your loved one’s anger. This can include a sudden change in their environment or mixed-up memories. Understanding these triggers can help you manage and prevent future outbursts by avoiding or changing situations that upset them. For example, if you notice that crowded places can overwhelm them, plan outings during quieter times.
  • Incorporate quiet periods throughout the day: Designate specific periods during the day for relaxation and quiet activities. These can include listening to soft music, reading together with your loved one, or simply sitting in a comfortable space. Quiet time can help your loved one unwind and reduce feelings of agitation.
  • Use clear and straightforward communication: Use direct and simple phrases. Avoid asking questions that require complex answers to reduce the likelihood of frustration.
  • Redirect your loved one’s attention if they are upset: Gently introduce a different activity or subject they enjoy. For example, consider looking at photos together or listening to your loved one’s favorite music to help distract them from their current state of distress.
  • Check for your loved one’s basic needs: Make sure your loved one is not hungry, thirsty, or in need of the restroom. Meeting these basic needs can often prevent discomfort that leads to anger.
  • Encourage socializing: Let your loved one know that they are surrounded by people who care about them. Joining in on group activities, family get-togethers, or hanging out with friends can lift their spirits and prevent feelings of isolation.
  • Use your sense of humor wisely: When needed, a light-hearted comment or joke can ease tension. Be mindful of their response to ensure humor is helping.
  • Manage pain or discomfort: Regularly assess whether your loved one might be in pain, as this can be an underlying cause for their anger.
An elderly woman holding a cup of coffee​
Create a safe living environment for your elderly parent with dementia by ensuring their home is comfortable and clutter-free​

Find Dependable Senior Care for Dementia Patients at Always Best Care

While anger is a natural emotion that everyone experiences, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia can significantly intensify it in the elderly.

At Always Best Care, we provide various senior care services across 225 territories in the United States and Canada. Our committed team offers high-quality care to guarantee the best experience for our patients.

Our services aim to provide relief, guidance, and expert care to both individuals with dementia and their caregivers, ensuring a better quality of life for everyone involved.

Our care services include:

Find reliable care for your elderly loved one.
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A Quick Recap on Dementia and Anger

Caring for someone with dementia enables you to approach moments of anger and aggression with empathy. Identifying what triggers these outbursts is key to providing the right support.

To cope with an angry loved one with dementia, stay calm, offer space when needed, and gently redirect their attention to calm activities, such as listening to their favorite music.

At Always Best Care, our caring team offers top-notch support for every elderly patient.

Reach out to us to arrange a consultation and discover how we can help improve your loved one’s comfort and quality of life.

Explore our senior care services.
Request a care consultation