Increased anger and aggression can be all too common side effects of dementia or Alzheimers. Bad moods happen to us all, and sometimes we just can’t put our finger on why we feel so down on ourselves. I imagine something similar occurs when our loved ones with Dementia or Alzheimer’s gets into a bad mood. The difference is I’m able to vocalize (more like warn!) those around me that I’m just not feeling 100%. Or if someone did something to upset me, I’m usually able to appropriately direct my feelings towards that person rather than anyone that crosses my path.
So why can’t our loved ones control their emotions? And what makes them get so riled up that they feel they need to take a swing at you? In my experience, anger is usually a prolonged side effect of frustration. Resulting from an individuals inability to efficiently get their feelings across and the disappointment that we the caregiver is unable to understand or help them accurately.
While working in the nursing home, it was essential to know and understand each resident’s triggers. Triggers can be anything from a particular sound to a specific person and although we may not always know why this particular item can cause an adverse reaction we quickly learn to avoid these things at all cost.
A helpful way to learn and remember triggers is to write them down while also noting the time of day they occur and the details of the scenario. For example, Mom may start yelling at breakfast – This only happens on Monday and Wednesdays which just so happens to be the same days she has a shower right before breakfast. The negative feelings she has towards her shower are carrying over into the rest of the day. In this case, there are a couple of things we can try: 1. Offer a bit more time in between shower and breakfast, so that she can calm down. Maybe even play a bit of her favorite music in her room to relax too. 2. Change the time of her shower to after breakfast. 3. Assess whether a shower is still an appropriate method of care.
It is important to note that even though someone has dementia, it does not mean that their feelings are unjustified. More often than not there is a rational explanation for the behavior. It is our job as caregivers to be their detective. Figure out what is bothering them and then doing what is in our power to remove these stressors from their environment. Or add in additional supports to help them manage and calm them after a trigger occurs.
And let’s be honest, its never always so easy. The times our loved one is angry, sad, or accusing us of something horrible are probably the lowest points in dementia care. It is normal to feel frustration or even anger towards our loved one. Keeping a notebook helps for this as well, recording our own responses allows us to better understand our breaking points and offers more insight while we provide care.
While you may feel overwhelmed and flustered at the moment, it is so important that your loved one is able to calm down. Prolonged anxiety or anger creates a higher risk that they hurt themselves or even you. It is important to first rule out that your loved one is in any pain. If they aren’t able to directly tell you then assess their body language; are they holding a particular part of their body? Are they wincing or is there a look of discomfort on their face? If pain can be ruled out identify the trigger as soon as possible. The Alzheimer’s Association offers a list of potential factors here.
Anger and aggression are common behaviors, and there is a ton of helpful information out there for you to learn different ways to both help your loved one feel more safe and secure and for you to feel more confident and in-control in these moments. Below is a list of helpful sites and feel free to check out our Dementia Care and Caregiver Support Tags for more resources from the Upside!
You Aren’t Alone
You may be the only one providing care for your loved one, but that does not mean you are alone in your experience. The growing number of family caregivers is astounding, and the need for understanding and tools with Dementia Care is essential to your ability to sustain your role as a caregiver. Although difficult, when your loved one begins to show signs of anger or aggressive behavior rule out pain and start investigating potential triggers within their environment.
For future reference, be sure to document the behavior, the time it occurred, and possible triggers. This way you’ll better be able to identify trends in behaviors. There are a number of ways we can help our loved one in these moments, reading others experiences and their tips and tricks may be a fast way to pick up your own tools for managing these behaviors that will allow a better quality of life for both you and them!