Anger can be common in people living with dementia and is among the harder elements of the disease to deal with. This is especially true for family members who are not used to seeing their relatives act out of character in this way.

Outbursts can be both verbal and physical, but it’s important to remain calm and remember the person living with dementia is not acting up on purpose. Equipping yourself with strategies to manage the situation will enable you to stay in control and minimise stress for all parties involved.

What are the causes of aggression in people living with dementia?

Sometimes it can appear that outbursts of anger have come out of nowhere, but even when a cause is not immediately evident, there are often reasons why a person living with dementia has become agitated. If you can identify what these are, then it can be easier to deal with the situation.

Physical discomfort is one of the main reasons that a person living with dementia might lash out. The causes could include side effects from medication or pain, but also being tired, hungry, thirsty or even too hot or cold.

Environmental factors can be unsettling for people living with dementia, such as loud noises, unfamiliar people or places, or being overstimulated. You may find your loved one is better at certain times of the day and therefore it’s best to incorporate these nuances into their schedule.

When cognitive function is compromised, they may not be able to articulate this discomfort, so it manifests as anger instead. As traditional forms of communication break down, people living with dementia can resort to other methods, but over time, you can learn to understand what they need.

Strategies to support people living with dementia when they get angry

Your toolkit for supporting those living with dementia needs to have multiple strategies that you can try. After all, each individual is different and specific situations can require disparate techniques to ensure everything goes as smoothly as possible.

Here are some useful tactics to bear in mind:

  • Stay calm and offer kind, reassuring words and gestures.
  • Identify and understand the cause of the frustration that resulted in an angry outburst in order to help mitigate those circumstances.
  • Look for any indicators that a person living with dementia is in pain, as the anger could highlight an issue that needs to be dealt with.
  • Show empathy and react to your loved one’s feelings.
  • Distractions can be both a positive or a negative, so gauge the situation and change the subject if you feel there’s a need to move away from the current set of circumstances.
  • Music, physical touch and gentle exercise can help to calm a person living with dementia and ease them into a different mood.
  • It’s OK to take yourself away from the situation for a moment or two, as long as your loved one is in a safe environment.

Preventing angry outbursts in the first place

As well as knowing how to deal with people living with dementia when they get angry, there are often lifestyle choices that can help prevent these outbursts in the first place. This can include everything from ensuring they’re getting enough sleep to having a routine that involves daily walks in nature.

Eating well is another step towards helping to regulate mood swings and overcoming frustrations. Consuming enough nutrients and calories is vital for those living with dementia so they can feel comfortable and remain healthy.

You may wish to pursue some sort of therapy for your loved one, with a number of different options available from art therapy to light therapy, which may contribute to a person who is living with dementia’s wellbeing. There’s lots of evidence to suggest pet therapy can be very beneficial, with the simple act of stroking an animal helping to reduce stress.

Cognitive stimulation activities are not just good for improving the memory, but can boost mood too. These exercises range from doing word games and puzzles to discussing past events and it’s amazing to see how people living with dementia can light up during such sessions, giving them a better sense of wellbeing and calm.

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