Why People Living with Alzheimer’s May React with Anger

Frustrated caregivers often wonder why their loved one who is living with Alzheimer’s sometimes reacts with anger as the caregivers attempt to help. Understanding why a spouse, parent or grandparent behaves this way can help the caregiver limit these stressful, frustrating times. To do that, the caregivers must understand life from the point of view of their loved one’s impaired mind.

Never forget that this person is an adult

There will be new losses with each stage of the disease as it progresses. Though frustrating for the person who has the disease, they'll require more effort from the caregiver. Fatigue and frustration can cause a caregiver to respond to a loved one’s negative behavior as if he or she were a child. This will only worsen the behavior, not help it. For smoother sailing, make sure your attitude shows respect for the dignity and adult status of your loved one.

Think about what it would be like to lose control

You are an adult, and yet you are told when to bathe or shower. You are told when to use the bathroom. You are told that you must eat even when you don’t feel hungry. You are told what you can and cannot watch on TV. This is life from your loved one’s point of view. Yes, you as a caregiver must control these issues and more. However, thinking about how you would feel if the situation were reversed can make you a better caregiver.

Present choices rather than issue orders

If your loved one has lost the ability to make reasonable choices, you may have to make the choices for him. But there are options for choice. You could say to your loved one, “Would you like to shower now or after breakfast?" or, “Do you want to start with your potatoes or your beans?” Also, “Do you want the soft lights on while we visit the bathroom or do you prefer the bright ones?” Too many choices might confuse your loved one. But the illusion of a choice, no matter how small, can help provide a feeling of dignity.

Body language

Body language speaks volumes, and your loved one is still likely to be able to recognize negative feelings through body language even if your words are lost. If you are helping your loved one eat, but doing so with impatient motions while you push her to hurry and finish, might cause your loved one to quit eating or lash out in some way. If you're warm and accepting, and you let him or her take her time, you are both likely to win with an easier -- maybe even a pleasant -- meal.

Tone of voice and pace of language

Your tone of voice is as important as your body language. So is your speaking pace. Your voice should sound warm and loving rather than irritated and impatient. Your conversation should be simple and easy to follow without sounding like you are talking down. Yes, these nuances can be hard to recognize, particularly when tired and stressed, and it’s not likely you’ll master this approach perfectly. That’s okay. You are human. But try. The results of reduced anger will be worth it.

The takeaway

As with so many caregiving-related issues, the bottom line is respect. If you keep the fact that your loved one is an adult utmost in your mind, followed with an image of how you would feel should you lose your ability to make choices, the rest will fall into place. Will you sometimes be impatient? Of course! Will you sometimes frown and allow some frustration to show through? Most likely. However, the more you try to understand the viewpoint of your loved one, the less trying the days will be for everyone.

Carol Bradley Bursack
Meet Our Writer
Carol Bradley Bursack

Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran family caregiver who spent more than two decades caring for a total of seven elders. This experience provided her with her foundation upon which she built her reputation as a columnist, author, blogger, and consultant. Carol is as passionate about supporting caregivers work through the diverse challenges in their often confusing role as she is about preserving the dignity of the person needing care. Find out much more about Carol at mindingourelders.com.