How to Respond When a Senior with Alzheimer's is Angry

  • September 05, 2019

Anger and agitation are issues families and caregivers often struggle to manage. While they don’t occur in every adult who lives with Alzheimer’s disease or a similar form of dementia, they are fairly common. In most cases, they are not caused by the senior being ornery or difficult. Instead, they are signs of an unmet need or a challenge the older adult is having a tough time resolving.

The damage dementia often causes to the brain makes it tough for the senior to verbally convey what they are struggling with. When you are feeling frustrated or impatient with your aging loved one, it’s important to remind yourself of that. The best course of action is to try to figure out what is triggering the older adult’s behavior so you can find a solution.

Dementia and Anger: Exploring Common Triggers

Here are a few reasons your senior loved one might be acting angry or agitated:

1. An overwhelming environment.

Adults with dementia may have difficulty processing too many things at once. When they are in a noisy, busy environment the stimulation can trigger an angry or agitated response. Loud noises and crowds can be especially tough.

Retreating to a space that is calm and quiet will often help de-escalate the situation.

2. Change in environment.

A new place or making changes to the old one can also result in agitation or anger. Because short-term memory is often impacted early in the disease process, change can be difficult for adults with dementia.

While you can’t always avoid taking the senior to new places, such as a doctor’s office, taking steps to minimize these changes may help prevent agitation.

3. Invasion of personal space.

An older adult with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia might be sensitive to having their personal space invaded. Approaching too quickly or from the side may cause them to strike out in fear. Peripheral vision is often impaired as the disease progresses. This means they might not see you coming until you appear right next to them. This can be frightening.

A better approach is to make eye contact with the senior and quietly talk to them, including calling the senior by name as you approach. Give them enough personal space so as not to make them feel confronted.

4. Uncomfortable or unmet needs.

Being hungry, thirsty, in pain, or in need of a bathroom can also increase anger and agitation. As can being in an environment that is too hot or cold.

If an older loved one is using difficult behaviors to express their frustration, try to determine if they are physically uncomfortable. For example, show them to the bathroom to see if they need to use it. Touch their skin to see if they are too hot or cold. Point to different parts of their body and ask if something hurts.

5. Problems with medication.

Because the body processes medication differently as we age, interactions and side effects can become more common. Talk with the pharmacist or treating physician about your senior loved one’s behavior and if any medications might be the trigger. They may be able to identify medication interactions or side effects.

One final suggestion to help you find ways to manage anger and agitation in a senior with dementia is to keep a journal. Document daily activities, sleep patterns, and diet. Also, use it to record troubling behaviors. It might help you to spot a pattern and identify potential causes.

Memory Care at Five Star Senior Living

At Five Star Senior Living, we are proud of the reputation we’ve earned for quality memory care. We use the Montessori approach to dementia programming that helps each resident remain independent and engaged. Call us at 617-796-8387 to learn more or to schedule a private tour of the community nearest you!


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51 Warning Signs

51 Warning Signs

As you care for your aging loved ones, learn how to spot unusual behaviors ranging from poor nutrition to depression.

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