If the person you care for has Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia, you may find their sudden emotional swings more difficult than their forgetfulness. Among many things, the disease has taken away their inhibitions. They can become quite irrational. And they are more likely to make a scene in public than they ever would have before their dementia. Family members mention embarrassment as one of the most difficult aspects of caring for their relative.
Although you can’t completely prevent outbursts, you can reduce their frequency and their intensity.
When a mood swing or difficult behavior occurs, ask yourself, “why now?”
Look for a trigger. Your loved one may be responding to someone’s comment or behavior or to something in the room, such as too much noise or light or too many people. Remove them from the situation and note patterns. Strive to avoid those triggers that prompt an outburst.
Look for a medical problem. Pain, a bladder infection, a hearing or vision problem, or a reaction to a medication may underlie the behavior change. Get a doctor’s input.
When responding, refrain from correcting, reasoning, or bringing them into “reality.” Acknowledge your loved one’s feelings. Irrational as they may be, they are very real to your relative.
Connect and then distract. Your relative’s behavior is likely to persist until they heard and understood by you. “I can see you’re frustrated. I would be too. Let’s have a bite to eat first, and then we can deal with this.”
If there’s sadness or fear. Reassure. Use touch and words of comfort and support. Demonstrate that you “get it.” For example, “You’re looking lonely. May I sit a while with you?”
If there’s anger. Stay calm. Don’t challenge or disagree. If you are in the middle of doing something together and you find yourself feeling angry in response, perhaps it’s time to take a break. You can excuse yourself to go to the bathroom. Come back in 15 minutes. At that time you can reevaluate if it seems wiser to resume your activity or do something else.