Dementia is not a specific disease but rather a broad term that describes the collection of symptoms affecting cognitive function, such as memory, thinking, reasoning, and communication. In addition to affecting memory, dementia can affect a person’s mood and personality.

As the disease progresses, you may notice your loved one becoming more easily angered or frustrated. Aggressive behaviors like hitting or yelling are not uncommon. It’s important to remember that this is a symptom of the disease. Try not to take these behaviors personally.

“An angry outburst could also be a signal that your person is frustrated trying to communicate something to you. Try to listen to what they mean rather than what they are saying,” said Cheryl Conley, MA, LSW, Director of Social Services for MemoryLane Care Services.

There are many reasons why a person with dementia may become angry or agitated:

  • Confusion due to new people, places or situations they don’t understand
  • Frustration over the inability to complete simple tasks like getting dressed or finding a lost item
  • Fear or anxiety about things that didn’t use to frighten them, like bathing

As challenging as angry outbursts can be, there are strategies you can use to help prevent or diffuse them.

Keep things simple. Break tasks down into simple steps. Match your expectations to the person’s current abilities. Maintain a calm environment and avoid overwhelming them with too much information at once.

Redirect and distract. If you see frustration building, shift their attention. Suggest a snack. Turn on the television or play their favorite music. Lead them to a different room for a change of scenery. Ask them a question about a topic they enjoy to get their mind focused on something positive.

Ensure safety. Make sure their living environment is safe. Remove any weapons like guns or knives from the home or keep them locked away. If a behavior escalates and becomes scary, back away slowly. Call 911 if you fear for your or anyone’s safety.

The most important thing is to listen for the meaning and feelings behind the words or actions, even if they are hurtful in the moment. With a little creativity, flexibility, and a lot of patience, you can learn to manage these challenging behaviors and continue providing the best possible care for your loved one. Remember, help is available. Contact our social workers for input or advice by calling 419-720-4940.

Download our Caregiver Tip Sheet on Anger, Frustration, and Fighting.