How to handle angry outbursts from someone with dementia

Managing anger and aggression from someone with dementia can be difficult, regardless of whether it's verbal or physical.

While the anger may be part of a person’s personality, these outbursts can also come from people who never behaved in such a way previously. Some people believe that angry outbursts are part of dementia or are a symptom of the condition, but this isn’t always the case. A person can become angry in situations such as:

  • They're in pain and struggling to express this to you
  • They're tired as they haven’t been sleeping well
  • They feel threatened, slighted, frustrated or even bored
  • They feel powerless, that they're not being listened to or understood
  • They feel disorientated or confused, possibly by loud noises, physical clutter or by too many confusing questions

The world can be a frustrating and frightening place when you're struggling to understand what's going on around you. It's important to remember that there are typically reasons behind angry behaviour, such as physical discomfort, environmental factors and communication barriers – the person isn’t usually just trying to be hurtful.

How to manage and prevent angry outbursts

It's important for you to try and see beyond the anger, and instead focus on what might be causing it, as the person may need your help and support.

What can I do during an angry outburst?

  • Remain calm - avoid confrontation, which may mean leaving the room for a while. Be positive and reassuring, speaking in a slow, soft tone
  • Determine whether there’s any pain or discomfort - book an appointment with their GP if you're uncertain, as undiagnosed pain, untreated depression or an infection can lead to anger, or can be a side effect of medication they're on
  • Think about other possible causes - what happened just before the outburst? You may also want to keep a diary to work out any regular triggers. Do the angry outbursts happen at certain times of the day, in certain places or around certain people? Is it when they're asked to do a particular task? If so, what can be done to alleviate these responses?
  • Validate their emotions and try a relaxing activity - let them know that you understand why they're feeling like this, so they don’t feel isolated or misunderstood. Then use music, exercise or another activity they enjoy to help them relax

What can I do to prevent angry outbursts?

  • Stick to routines - maintain habits such as getting dressed before breakfast, going for a stroll after lunch or sitting at the same table for dinner. These habits can help a person with dementia to avoid agitation and confusion
  • Keep communication clear - a person’s inability to communicate effectively can leave them feeling frustrated and misunderstood. Be patient and help them with words they're struggling with to keep the conversation flowing. Avoid quizzing them on names, make eye contact, demonstrate what you want them to do and make sure the environment is free from too much noise and physical clutter

Dementia support with Priory

Our dedicated and friendly team is here to help you if you're supporting someone with dementia. Short-term stays are available if you're looking for respite, where you can be safe in the knowledge that your loved one is in the hands of people who are experienced in delivering dementia care.

Contact us to make an enquiry or for more information

If you'd like to find out more about our dementia care homes, which offer long-term stays and respite services, please make an enquiry online or call us today.

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