Dementia is often associated with anger and as a caregiver taking care of a loved one, this can be challenging. Whether your loved one had previous anger issues that are now heightened or developed aggression after diagnosis, there are ways that you can cope and care for them well.
In this article we’ll look at why people get angry with dementia, common causes of anger, tips for handling the anger, and how to find or become a qualified caregiver.
Understanding Why People with Dementia Get Angry
Anger in people with dementia is a response to the symptoms of their condition, especially when the condition is in advanced stages. When they are confused or don’t understand something, it can be quite frightening, causing them to lash out. While it may be clear to you that you’re only there to help, to someone in the midst of a hallucination or a bout of paranoia nothing is clear.
Additionally, people with dementia have lost certain cognitive skills, including those that help them regulate and emote their feelings. This is often why the anger seems to be more like a lashing out than other forms of anger such as the silent treatment. These outbursts can happen without warning and may be attached to seemingly small triggers like being rushed or not getting enough sleep. Whatever the cause of their anger, it’s important to remember it’s not personal or on purpose.
5 Common Causes of Anger in People with Dementia
There are many reasons why your loved one may be expressing anger in the midst of their dementia. It could be due to physical, emotional, or mental triggers. Physical triggers include discomfort, soreness, or exhaustion. Emotional triggers include feelings of boredom or loneliness while mental triggers include confusion such as mixed up memories.
Below are five common causes of anger that all relate to symptoms of dementia.
Dementia is marked by memory loss. This means that people with dementia often forget who people are, even those close to them like children or partners. When they can’t remember someone who is claiming and acting like they are familiar, it can cause fear and anxiety. To you, you are a loved one, to them, you are a stranger getting too close. This often causes outbursts of anger because they feel like they’re being threatened.
People with dementia lose certain communication skills including their ability to understand what is being said to them. This means that they may not understand instructions you give them or may misinterpret something as offensive. You may be trying to help or comfort them, but to them you may have insulted them or you’ve frightened them because you’re saying words but they can’t string them together. This frustration at misunderstandings can bubble up into an outburst of anger.
Paranoia involves anxious or fearful feelings related to threat, jealousy, conspiracy, and more. These anxious feelings are often irrational and can build into delusions when nothing can resolve the paranoia. Paranoia can also manifest as suspicion and mistrust, even of their caregiver, making care difficult.
Delusions are irrational beliefs that are so intense, you likely can’t convince your loved one otherwise. The irrationality of these beliefs often mean they are literally impossible and last for long periods of time, 1 month or longer.
Hallucinations are false perceptions related to the senses. People with dementia may see, hear, smell, taste, or feel something that is not actually there. When these sensory hallucinations are of the negative variety, such as insects crawling on them, they can lead to unintended outbursts.
7 Tips for Handling Dementia & Anger
Now that you know what causes people with dementia to have anger issues, it’s important to know how to handle these outbursts. Below we’ll outline 7 tips to help you cope with unpredictable emotions while maintaining a high level of care for your loved one.
Find the Cause
Outbursts of anger aren’t intended to be mean, they are key insights into how your loved one is feeling and what they are trying to communicate. Look for patterns in when they become angry. Is there a time of day, such as in the evening hours? A specific situation, like bathing? Finding the cause whether it’s hunger, fatigue, or boredom allows you to eliminate triggers.
Distract Your Loved One
When someone with dementia is experiencing paranoia or confusion marked by anger, a little distraction can go a long way. When you take their mind off the trigger whether that’s a change in scenery or hunger, they have the opportunity to calm down. Try playing music, putting on a movie, or mentioning one of their favorite stories to tell.
When your loved one is confused and thinks you’re the wrong person or misinterprets what you said, it’s best to avoid arguing. There’s a time and place for correction, but never let the situation deteriorate into bickering. It won’t be effective and will often only upset the person with dementia more. Your loved one’s comfort is more important than you proving a point.
Give Them Space & Time
When someone with dementia becomes angry, one of the simplest things you can do is give them space and time to calm down. For example, if you’re helping them with a craft and they become agitated with your help, take a step back. Try helping them again in 20 minutes.
Don’t Take it Personally
While it may be hard, it’s important to remember that what your loved one says out of anger is not intended to hurt you. If you respond negatively because you feel as though they’ve insulted you, you’ll only continue the circle of anger and frustration for everyone involved. When they become angry and say hurtful things, let it go. At the very least, don’t express how you’re feeling to them. Find support from friends and family at a different time and focus your attention on giving the best care for your loved one.
Switch Their Caregiver
If you’re not the caregiver for your loved one and instead are going through a nursing home or in-home caregiving service, it may be worth switching their care. It’s possible your loved one doesn’t get along with their caregiver or their caregiver is failing to see the triggers that are causing angry outbursts. Finding someone who knows how to handle the heightened emotions of those with dementia will benefit everyone involved.
Talk with Their Doctor
While some anger can be maintained and diverted, there are times when outbursts become out of control. If your loved one is putting themselves or you in danger when they become angry, it’s time to seek help from their doctor. Medication, while not the first option, is helpful when you can’t seem to relieve angry outbursts when they arise. When you talk with their doctor, they can evaluate your loved one and make an informed judgment call if medication is needed.
Finding the Right Caregiver
While there are many caregivers for people with dementia, not every caregiver understands the anger that often accompanies the condition nor how to identify and remove triggers. It’s important to find a caregiver that knows the causes of anger with dementia and the ways in which to resolve them.
At JEVS, our caregivers have experience caring for people with dementia and their angry outbursts. We provide respite, companionship, and community integration to keep your loved one happy, comfortable, and active. Additionally, we have multilingual caregivers so language never becomes a frustration for your loved one.
Becoming a Caregiver for Those with Dementia
If you prefer not to outsource for your loved one’s care, you can become a caregiver yourself. By going through training you can better learn how to care for your loved one and manage their angry outbursts.
At JEVS we provide substantial benefits and thorough training for anyone interested in becoming a caregiver. To learn more about our caregiving opportunities and the benefits it will have on the life of your loved one, contact us today.