Learn to avoid the Alzheimer triggers

The changes in mood and personality that accompany Alzheimer’s can be especially devastating for those caring for loved ones with the disease. The physical changes to the brain caused by Alzheimer’s disease can lead to intensified feelings of anger and aggression in some people or can cause new anger issues to arise in others. These problems may grow worse as the disease progresses.

Aggressive behaviors can be verbal or physical, and while they may seem to come out of nowhere, they are often the result of environmental factors which trigger a reaction by the person and cause them to respond aggressively. Learning to identify these factors can help caregivers limit a person’s exposure to them, defusing aggressive behavior before it becomes extreme, or even preventing it entirely.

Many times, these triggers are physical. The person may become angry in response to pain or discomfort, hunger, thirst, a lack of proper rest, or as the result of a side effect of prescription medication. The loss of cognitive function and the inability to communicate, both of which increase with the progression of Alzheimer’s, make it more and more difficult for the person to articulate the problem and can lead them to act out aggressively.

Overstimulation can be another source of anger in those living with Alzheimer’s. Loud noises, cluttered rooms, and environments with a lot of activity can all lead to feelings of being overwhelmed and, in turn, aggressive reactions. Crowds of people, especially people who are unfamiliar to the person with Alzheimer’s, can also lead to feelings of being overwhelmed. Unfortunately, even family members may be unrecognizable to someone in the later stages of the disease.

Feelings of boredom and loneliness can trigger an angry response in some with Alzheimer’s disease, as well.

The frustration caused by confusion can also result in anger. Confusion can occur when a person suddenly loses their train of thought, gets memories mixed up or feels lost because they do not recognize their surroundings, even in their own home. Unexpected environmental changes, such as changing caregivers, can also be confusing for someone suffering from Alzheimer’s.

While learning to avoid the triggers that cause anger and aggression can help prevent them, it is not always possible to avoid some circumstances or predict every situation which could result in an angry response. In such cases it is important to know how to deal with physical or verbal outbursts.

First and foremost, it is important for caregivers to remember that their loved one is not acting out on purpose. Their actions are the result of the disease, over which they have no control, and many Alzheimer’s patients often forget their outbursts shortly after they’ve happened.

While dealing with such behavior can be equally frustrating for the caregiver, reacting aggressively to aggressive outbursts often only serves to make the person with dementia angrier and to make the situation worse. Physical control should only ever be exerted against someone with the disease if they are a threat to themselves or those around them.

The caregiver should use a calm and even tone when speaking. They should be reassuring and should keep instructions simple and easy to understand. They should not attempt to argue or reason with the person, but instead should be sympathetic and accepting. Also, a caregiver asking too many questions at once could increase confusion and agitation in someone already struggling to make sense of where they are and what’s going on around them.

People with Alzheimer’s often pick up on signs of distress in those around them, which makes their own distress worse, so it’s important that those caring for them avoid outward displays of fear, frustration or anger.

If possible, the caregiver should try diverting the person’s attention away from the situation that may have caused them to become confused or frustrated. In some cases, music, massage or some other relaxing activity can help soothe the person and calm the aggressive behavior.

If the caregiver is unable to calm the person and they are able to do so safely, they should leave the room or otherwise remove themselves from the situation. Doing so gives them and the person suffering from the aggressive episode time to calm down. Once calm, the caregiver may find it easier to respond and to communicate more effectively with their loved one.

In extreme cases it may not be possible for one person alone to dispel an aggressive outburst or keep their loved one and the people around them safe. In these situations, it may be best to seek help from others. If other family members or friends are not available and emergency first responders must be called, it is important that they be told the person acting out is suffering from dementia, which is causing their aggression.

One thing to keep in mind when dealing with someone suffering from Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia is that they often function better at certain times of the day. Activities and appointments should be planned for those times, when they are better able to process information and adjust to their surroundings, to help reduced the risk of an angry response to a confusing situation.


Information provided by Visiting Angels, America’s choice in homecare. Visiting Angels non-medical homecare services allow people to continue enjoying the independence of their daily routines and familiar surroundings. To set up an appointment for a no-obligation in-home assessment, call 330-332-1203.


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