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  • Writer's pictureThe Ideal Team

Tips for Handling Elderly Emotional Outbursts

When we hear the term "temper tantrum", we often associate it with young or teenage children, however as the population ages and dementia-related diseases, such as Alzheimer's, are on the rise, temper outbursts in the elderly are becoming more frequent.

It can be quite challenging to see your elderly parent act in a way that is very different than what you have been used to throughout your life. It can be unnerving and leave you feeling unsettled and anxious.

Emotional outbursts can occur at any stage in life and is a normal outcome when faced with memory loss that leads to confusion, fear, frustration, and sadness. However, there are ways to handle your response to the situation, and it generally starts with understanding the causes of the outburst itself.

The Whys

Seeing a parent act out in an unusually aggressive or inappropriately violent manner will be upsetting and confusing at first. But why is it happening in the first place? This is not always an easy question to answer, but there are some common triggers that provide you with some clarity.

Emotional outbursts are often caused by personality changes caused by Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. It's not uncommon for prescription medications to have negative side effects or interact with each other, leading to mood swings and irritability. Anxiety or depression over deteriorating health can result in emotional fits. In reality, the most difficult reason to accept is that the senior is misbehaving because they're stubborn.

It's always a concern when a senior's behaviour suddenly changes. The symptoms could be an adverse reaction to a drug or an underlying medical issue, like a urinary tract infection (UTI), unmanaged pain or poor sleep. It's not uncommon for seniors to experience strange behavioural symptoms as a result of infections like UTIs. Contact their doctor right away if they're acting uncharacteristically angry or upset.

Keep in mind that the individual doesn't have full control over their words or actions. The best thing you can do is not take it personally. It's not unusual for elderly people to have emotional outbursts towards and around those closest to them like family members.

Tips for Handling Emotional Outbursts

The following tips have been adapted from a variety of online sources, however, seeking advice and support from medical practitioners or support groups is also a great primary source for assistance.

  1. Schedule an appointment with your loved one’s doctor to confirm that their change in behaviour is not being caused by any new or worsening physical or mental health problems.

  2. The next time your elder has an emotional outburst, do not engage. Make it clear to them by calmly saying that you are not going to listen to their outburst then walk away. Leave the room and give them plenty of time to cool down before you interact again.

  3. During an outburst, they may accuse you of "not loving them" and may actually say those words. If your loved one tells you that you don’t love them, gently take their hand once they are calm and tell them, “I do love you." It is best to leave it at that and not engage in further conversation as that can lead to more hostile actions or words. Do not feel like you have to justify your actions.

  4. Remind yourself that you need and deserve a break, and then make it happen. Self-care is beneficial to prevent caregiver burnout. Doing something small for yourself each day will set the standard. Schedule time for respite just like you schedule all other appointments. This routine will help your loved one come to be more accepting of your personal boundaries. Consistency is key. Consider hiring a home care provider such as those we offer, to provide you with peace of mind that your loved one is being looked after during those times when you cannot,

  5. Understand that feelings of guilt will occur, especially when taking time for yourself or thinking that you are not doing enough to prevent the outbursts. Putting the needs of others before your own can lead to more damaging personal health and wellness. The key to successful, sustainable caregiving is prioritizing self-care and letting go of undeserved guilt.

  6. Dementia caregivers use validation and redirection to get through tough times. What this means is that, once the behaviour begins (typically in verbal outbursts or demands), acknowledge their request and validate their feelings. After that, you gently guide their attention to another object, activity, or topic. Patience is necessary as redirection takes trial and error, especially when considering the changing needs and interests of the individual.

Remember, caregiving is hard, yet rewarding. Nurturing our elderly loved ones through all of the ups and downs can be challenging, however, knowing that the downs are through no fault of our own and not to be taken personally will allow you to fully be present for all of the ups along the way.


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