Handling Dementia and Anger: How to Properly Respond to Aggression

Handling Dementia and Anger: How to Properly Respond to Aggression

While bouts of aggression, anger, and dementia are known to coincide, knowing isn't even half of the battle. Juggling dementia and anger can be emotionally and physically challenging, especially when the vitriol comes from a loved one. Even though you may know it's out of their natural character and the behaviors are symptoms of dementia, the frustration and hurt feelings are the same. However, as a caregiver, you are not alone. 

At the Long Island Alzheimer's and Dementia Center, we offer resources, support, and guidance to help caregivers navigate their way through a loved one's diagnosis. For example, since the COVID-19 pandemic, our caregiver support groups have turned virtual and we’ve implemented a new one-on-one counseling service. These specialized groups are peer-based and facilitated by our experienced licensed social workers.

We encourage you to reach out to our professionals for support and resources designed to help you provide the best level of care possible. In the meantime, continue reading to learn a few helpful tips to navigate through dementia and anger. 

Understanding Dementia and Anger: Empathy Is Key

The first step to handling anger with dementia is to attempt to take an empathetic approach. Often easier said than done in the heat of the moment, but it helps to know where their anger stems from. 

Although your loved one with Alzheimer's or dementia can easily become irritable, angry, and even belligerent without being provoked, a root cause or several causes can be determined. Gaining a better understanding of these triggers can help you prevent aggressive behavior and defuse it with more skill and care. 

Physical Triggers Can Cause Anger in Those with Dementia

We all can get irritated from time to time when dealing with physical discomforts. However, most of us are equipped with the abilities to properly handle this discomfort. For those with dementia, these physical discomforts can be amplified to a fever pitch and cause angry outbursts. 

Your loved one may be angry due to soreness, nausea, dizziness, discomfort, or exhaustion. At the same time, they could be extremely frustrated by the inability to remember things or complete simple physical tasks. 

Emotional Triggers Can Cause Anger in Those with Dementia

Your loved one with dementia can become angry due to boredom or overstimulation. Also, feelings of loneliness and being overwhelmed can both trigger aggression and anger. 

Mental Triggers Can Cause Aggressive Behavior in Those with Dementia

Undoubtedly, confusion is among the top causes of anger in those living with Alzheimer's and dementia. Confusion can be caused by mixed up memories, lost trains of thought, or a sudden change in the environment, such as changing caregivers. 

Tips for Handling Dementia and Anger or Aggression

Managing any type of dementia and anger can be tough, but it's not impossible. Your words and actions have immense power to quickly deescalate intense situations or prevent them from happening. Here are a few of our top tips for handling dementia and anger or aggression. 

An Ounce of Prevention Is Worth Pounds of Cure

As with most things in life, prevention — if possible — is key. And the more you understand the triggers, the better you will be at circumventing and avoiding angry outbursts. That said, it's almost impossible to avoid all triggers all the time. Yet, if you can practice anger prevention, it's best to do so. 

Give Your Loved One Space

Everyone values their space and independence, so remember to give your loved one with dementia a little space. If you invade their personal space and they don't understand why, you can expect a level of combativeness or resistance. 

Avoid Arguing

If your loved one with dementia is being irrational, you may be tempted to argue or try to prove your point. However, arguing with someone who has dementia is rarely ever effective. You may end up making them angrier. And it's important to remember that you won't win. 

Try to Identify the Cause

One of the keys to responding with care to anger is to attempt to identify the cause. Think about what they may be feeling to make them behave aggressively. Ask yourself:

  • Are they in pain?
  • Are they attempting to do something unsuccessfully?
  • Are they sleepy or fatigued?
  • Is their mind wondering?
  • Could they be hungry?
  • Have they been triggered?

You can also pay special attention to patterns. For example, do they tend to get angry at certain times of the day? Another strategy is to think about what happened immediately prior to the outburst. 

Was there a certain event that triggered the reaction, such as several visitors or a lot of noise? All of these tactics and strategies are heavily reliant on your understanding of your loved one with dementia. And the more triggers you are able to identify, the better you will be at avoiding them. 

Your Tone Matters

When addressing your loved one with dementia who may be angry, use a calm tone of voice. You should also try to avoid outward displays of fear, anger, frustration, or distress. These signs are usually detected by your loved one and can make their agitation and distress worse.

Give Your Loved One Time

We can all become distressed and possibly over react in the heat of the moment. Keep this in mind. If you are caring for a loved one with dementia and they are angry, consider giving them a little break. 

For example, if you are helping a loved one put their shoes on and they become angry, make sure they are safe, leave them alone, and give them a little processing time. Then, attempting the same task later may render an entirely different set of results. 

Give Time to Yourself

It's important to remember that your loved one with dementia isn't the only person handling with intense emotions. Take a break to calm yourself down, and then try again. This can make it easier for you to dispel their anger, defuse it, or respond appropriately. 

Deploy Distraction Techniques

When facing dementia and anger, never underestimate the power of distraction. For example, music can be a remarkable distraction. In an angry bout, pull out your phone and play your loved one's favorite jazz before attempting to do whatever you were doing.

Speak to Your Loved Ones Doctor

In some instances, dementia and anger can be intense. So much so, you and others around your loved one may not be safe. If you feel the aggression and anger is putting you or anyone else at risk, you shouldn't hesitate to reach out to their doctor. Although medications shouldn't be the first choice, it is an option that may be necessary.

Contact the Long Island Alzheimer's & Dementia Center for Virtual Caregiver Support Groups & Additional Resources

When it comes to managing your loved ones dementia and anger, remember that you are not alone. The Long Island Alzheimer’s & Dementia Center offers virtual caregiver support groups tailored to the unique experiences and needs of spouses, loved ones, adult children, and the bereaved. 

Each support group is facilitated by a licensed social worker. In addition to hearing the experiences, strengths, and hopes of other caregivers, these groups are designed to:

  • Reduce caregiver stress
  • Help prevent caregiver depression
  • Minimize isolation among caregivers
  • Offer respite from your caregiving duties
  • Teach proven coping methods and strategies
  • Create a comfortable environment where ideas are shared
  • Connect you to community resources to help build your network of support

Contact the Long Island Alzheimer's & Dementia Center today by calling (516)767-6856 or completing an inquiry form

About the Author Grace Johnson

Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW), State of New York Long Island Alzheimer's and Dementia Center

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