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Alzheimer's Disease: Tips for working with anger and aggression

Updated on June 19, 2013

A common behavior associated with advancing Alzheimer's disease is anger and aggression. People with Alzheimer's often become agitated, meaning a display of restlessness or worry. Agitation manifests itself in several outward behaviors including sleeplessness, pacing, or aggression. Lashing out in anger resulting in yelling or hitting may occur.

Outbursts of anger are difficult to manage and often result in injury to caregivers. Learning to understand triggers for anger and frustration can help caregivers avoid and/or manage these types of occurrences.

What Causes Agitation and Aggression

There is usually a reason for changes in behavior for all of us, it is important to look for the cause. Pay close attention to what is happening with the person at the time they become agitated. Finding the cause and dealing with it may solve the anger issue. Some common causes include:

  • Depression or Stress
  • Pain
  • Lack of sleep
  • Constipation
  • Sudden changes in routine, person or environment
  • Feelings of loss
  • Changes in mental or physical abilities
  • Too much activity or noise in surroundings
  • Being coaxed to do something they do not want to or do not understand for example bathing or eating
  • Soiled underwear, briefs or diapers
  • Reactions to medications
  • Feelings of loneliness

Becoming aware of early signs can make a big difference and help to avoid outbursts or adverse reactions to environmental factors. Typically each person will have stressors that cause agitation, ignoring them will make things worse. Try to be proactive by learning what causes stress for each person and develop strategies to deal with each stressful situation.


What Are The Signs of Agitation

There are many signs that a person is agitated many are nonverbal. Communication is difficult for people with Alzheimer's, the signals of agitation are often non-verbal.

  • Restlessness and fidgeting
  • Far away look in their eyes
  • A sense of confusion
  • A statement like "I don't remember" with emotional tone
  • Shutting down
  • Wandering
  • Stuttering

Coping with Anger and Aggression

Working through anger and aggression is often difficult and requires patience. Remember to remain calm and moderate your responses in an attempt to defuse the situation. Some helpful tips for coping in difficult situations include:

  • Speak calmly and listen to his/her frustrations
  • Reassure the person and let them know you understand how they feel
  • Change is difficult, try to maintain routines such as bathing, meal times and activities
  • Alzheimer's involves feelings of loss, allow the person to maintain as much control over their life as possible
  • Quiet times can be very rewarding, build them into daily activities as much as you can
  • Keep familiar and loved possessions around and available as they help the person feel more secure
  • Be gentle
  • Play soothing music, take walks or read stories
  • Reduce the number of people in the room

Take Care of Yourself

Caregiving in any case is difficult and overwhelming and is particularly challenging when caring for a person with Alzheimer's. Please remember to take care of yourself.

  • Schedule respite care as often as you can
  • Have a spa day
  • Take a walk
  • Get help around the house
  • Do the things you enjoy, continue as much as you can with your life.


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    • Peter Geekie profile image

      Peter Geekie 4 years ago from Sittingbourne

      An interesting, well written and researched article on one of the many aspects of this difficult condition.

      Voted up, useful and interesting.

      kind regards Peter

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Excellent information. I have seen this often in my friend and it is increasing. I appreciate the tips.

    • mjboomer profile image

      Mike Elzner 5 years ago from Oregon

      Thank so much....There are many new and interesting approaches to care for Alzheimer's now.

    • mjboomer profile image

      Mike Elzner 5 years ago from Oregon

      You are so welcome

    • AMFredenburg profile image

      Aldene Fredenburg 5 years ago from Southwestern New Hampshire

      Thank you for some valuable advice. My mother went through this, which was difficult for her caregivers (the last year or two of her life she was in a nursing home). The staff used to call and ask me to come pick her up for while to give them some respite. Sometimes people don't want to put their loved ones on powerful medications, but they do help, and it's important to balance the needs of the patient with the needs, including safety, of the people who care for the person on a daily basis.

      Reiki can do wonders for bouts of anger in an Alzheimer's sufferer, at least on a temporary basis.

    • lrc7815 profile image

      Linda Crist 5 years ago from Central Virginia

      Thank you for writing this informative and very necessary hub. So many of us that are caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's are grasping at straws to make life as normal as possible. Anger and aggression are the most frightening phase of this disease. My Dad has just entered this phase so I am very grateful for your clear description ad tips. Thank you!