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Dealing With Anger in Dementia Patients
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Dealing With Anger in Dementia Patients

August 08, 2018

Caring for a loved one with dementia is challenging. People with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia often have trouble communicating, significant memory problems, an inability to focus or pay attention, reasoning and judgment issues, mood swings, depression or anxiety, and personality changes. The reason for anger or violence in dementia patients can be because they are uncomfortable, scared or overstimulated and lack the ability to express those feelings appropriately.

Senior man looking lonely and depressed 
Dementia and anger are frequently intertwined. Feelings of anger and the aggression that may follow are not your loved one’s fault and are not intended to hurt you. Your loved one is responding to feeling fearful, frustrated or helpless. Of all the signs of dementia, anger and aggression may be the toughest to deal with as a caretaker. So how can you diffuse the situation and show your loved one you care? Here are seven tips to try:

Try to Identify What’s Behind the Anger

What could be making your loved one so upset? Often, possibilities include:

  • Pain or significant discomfort due to an injury, fever, constipation, headache or urinary tract infection.
  • Hungry or thirsty and frustrated at not being able to communicate those needs.
  • Overtired due to lack of sleep.
  • Medications that could be causing side effects.
  • Fear of unfamiliar surroundings.
  • Over-stimulation from too many people, loud noises, bright lights or clutter.
  • Unable to complete a task.
  • Too cold or too hot and frustrated at not being able to communicate those feelings.

How to Handle Dementia Anger

If you can figure out what’s bothering your loved one, do what you can to remedy the situation quickly. Offer food, drink or pain-relieving medication. Give them a comfortable place to take a nap. Call their doctor and ask about medication side effects. Take them home. Adjust the thermostat or offer a sweater. Minor actions can make a major difference.

Here are other effective ways to deal with the anger.

  • Give your loved one some space: Obviously, you don’t want to go far, but giving your loved one a few minutes alone in their room until the anger passes may help a lot. After a few minutes, you can approach your loved one again – speaking calmly and trying to shift focus to something else, like a favorite activity. 
  • Don’t get upset or express frustration: Your loved one is already frustrated, anxious or scared. They may feel embarrassed at their inability to communicate or complete a task. They need your reassurance and support and a willingness to move on from the outburst.
  • Suggest doing something relaxing: Listen to music together, watch a funny TV show, take a walk around the block or do something else with your loved one that will distract them from their anger and allow them to calm down. 
  • Examine the environment: It’s common for someone with dementia to feel more fearful or confused than usual in an unfamiliar place. If you’re out somewhere, head home. If your loved one has just moved in with you or into an assisted living community, make sure their new space is filled with familiar things like photos, furniture, blankets, favorite books or trinkets, and other items they are used to having around.
  • Take the time: If someone is already irritable, anxious or angry, rushing them along or forcing them into an activity – even to take a shower or eat a meal – will likely escalate the situation. Verbally prepare your loved one for upcoming outings or activities by working the information into a calm conversation.
  • Show, don’t just tell: People with dementia often have trouble completing simple tasks that were once second nature. Sometimes visual cues, like pretending to brush your teeth or get dressed can help reinforce what you’re trying to communicate.  

Most importantly, when your loved one is calm again, make sure you show that you care. A simple gesture like a hug or a smile can let them know they’re loved, safe and important. 

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