Anger, Hostility & Outbursts

Bruce Banner and the Incredible Hulk, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Your Loved One and... If your loved one has a dementia-triggered alter ego that’s quick to anger or downright scary at times, this post is for you.

The bad news: anger, hostility, and outbursts are common for seniors living with dementia, and caregivers often bear the brunt of it. The good news: you don’t have to repair shredded shirts, pants, or your own hurt feelings when negative emotions get out of control.

“The most important things you can do for yourself and your loved one is to understand your loved one’s triggers, take steps to mitigate the anger, and – we can’t stress this enough – not take it personally,” says Halie Dickinson, Community Relations Director at YourLife™ of Tallahassee, a Memory Care community in Tallahassee, Florida.

In this post, we’ll explore some of the reasons your loved one may be experiencing anger and how to avoid or de-escalate the issues.

Dementia’s Role in Extreme Anger, Hostility, and Outbursts

As Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias progress, emotions don’t go away, but the ability to make sense of and rationally deal with them does. That’s because dementias like Alzheimer’s deteriorate the brain’s frontal lobe – the part responsible for executive functions such as decision-making, evaluation, reasoning, judgment, ability to read social cues, and impulse control.

Without the frontal lobe to process thoughts or to provide a filter to keep emotions in check, floodgates open for negative emotions such as confusion, fear, and frustration to pour out in waves of anger, aggression, or other common dementia-related behaviors, such as repetitive speech, inappropriate situational conduct, or uncharacteristically rude or offensive language or actions.

What’s Making Your Loved One So Angry?

Understanding common triggers can help you avoid or fix problems before your loved one becomes overly angry or hostile. Common triggers include:

  • Sundowning syndrome.
  • Feeling unheard or disrespected.
  • Physical pain. If your loved one is in pain and unable to express it verbally, frustration and fear can compound their pain and emerge as anger or hostility. Check for bruises and invisible issues, such as constipation, UTIs or other infections that may be making your loved one irritable. Some illnesses can cause delirium, even in seniors who don’t have a dementia diagnosis, which adds confusion to their discomfort.
  • Grief. As people advance in age, they experience many losses, including deaths of loved ones, less contact with family members and friends, and the loss of independence and ability.
  • Confusion. When seniors with dementia are unable to find the right words or unable to understand your words, they may become confused, frustrated, or embarrassed, any of which can incite an outburst.
  • Environmental factors. Too much stimulation, background noise, or commotion may upset your loved one.
  • General discomfort. Is their chair too hard? Sweater too itchy? Pants too tight? Are they hangry?

Avoiding & De-Escalating Outbursts

  • Determine if discomfort or pain is the issue. Instead of asking your loved one where it hurts or what is bothering them, you may need to ask more specific questions such as “does it hurt here?” while gesturing to each part of your body.
  • Maintain a positive, reassuring demeanor that makes them feel safe and valued.
  • Remove distractions and overwhelming stimuli.
  • Play some of their favorite music to calm them.
  • Engage them in a comforting, orienting routine.
  • Distract your loved one by changing the subject to something they may enjoy talking about. Reminiscing is often an effective go-to in this situation.
  • Avoid chastising or shaming them as the anger rises in them. This will only escalate the negative emotions. Let them know you want to help them, and you understand they are frustrated.
  • If the above tips get you nowhere, step away and give both of you a chance to calm down.

When trying to mitigate or de-escalate an outburst, put their safety and yours first. If there is a possibility of physical aggression, seek assistance from others. If you have to call 911, make sure to tell responders the person has dementia that causes them to act aggressively.

Remember: Don’t Take It Personally.

Even professional caregivers with years of training can’t always prevent or avoid dementia-related outbursts. Recognizing that you’re doing your best and focusing on not taking your loved one’s anger, hostility, and outbursts personally can help you both get through an episode intact.

To learn how our memory care experts manage dementia’s challenges with dignity and respect, call YourLifeTM of Tallahassee’s life enrichment team at 850-250-5671.


Inspired ● Engaged ● Fulfilled

If someone you love is living with memory loss, you want the very best for them. You’ll find it at YourLife™ of Tallahassee. Because Memory Care is all that we do, we have the unique ability to focus all our energy, attention, and resources on creating an environment that caters to each resident’s needs, preferences, and abilities while providing unequaled peace of mind and support for families.

We care for each resident as an individual because we understand that each resident has their own story. Using this idea, we develop personally inspired care plans that value and support each person’s independence while creating beautiful days. No matter how much care they need, our team of attentive, caring YourLife™ Personal Care Specialists can assist with all activities of daily living while providing reminders, guidance, support, and cues. Even better, residents and their families experience true peace of mind knowing that expert care is on site 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Our personal touch doesn’t stop with our care. In fact, it’s only the beginning. We create days that leave residents feeling Inspired. Engaged. Fulfilled. through our signature programming, YourStory. With individual experiences centered around each resident, engaging outings, services and amenities, activities, dining, and more, we create opportunities to learn and pursue new endeavors. At YourLife™ of Tallahassee, everything was designed for you, but it is defined by you, creating a lifestyle that makes every day a joy. Contact us to learn more!

Call us at 850-250-5671 for more information or to schedule a personal visit today.