Dementia can increase a person’s frustration and cause mood swings. This is partly because daily tasks are tougher to complete. Regularly losing a purse, keys or other personal items can frustrate the person and lead them to lose their temper, especially if they have had a bad day already or didn’t sleep very well (dementia can also affect a person’s sleep quality).
Mid to late-stage dementia can often lead to challenging behaviour and this is because the person is confused, fearful and also sad. They may become aggressive and shout and throw things. I took my mum away to a health spa once, thinking it would be a peaceful and relaxing break for her, but instead, she grew confused and her confusion would lead to anger. On the first day of our break, she threw a purse crammed full of loose change at me, then burst into tears. The person may also kick or swear – even if they aren’t normally the type of person who would swear. It’s important when this happens to remember that it’s usually the disease and not the person causing this behaviour, even though it’s still upsetting. Remember that the brain controls our emotions and dementia is a disease of the brain.
You may be doing your best for the person, but despite this, they may feel that you aren’t paying them enough attention, even if you are with them virtually all of the time. My mum used to feel this way when I visited her. I did her housework and organised her tablets. Sometimes I mowed the lawn and tidied her garden. She would get angry that I wasn’t spending time with her and eventually I realised that it was the company she wanted. The condition had taken hold of her to the extent that she cared more about having people around her and less about what her home looked like. Spending more quality time with her was what she needed, so I arranged for a local handyman to do her gardening and employed a cleaner to come in and do most of the domestic tasks so that mum and I had quality time together. This was just what she needed.
So what can you do if a person gets angry? It’s very difficult in these situations, as the person can’t help it but on the other hand, you can’t let yourself be put into a position of danger, as your welfare and wellbeing are equally as important as the person you are caring for. Try to avoid ‘triggers’ for the person’s anger where possible. My mum didn’t like people talking and not involving her and also didn’t like people having long-winded conversations which she found boring. So I tried to avoid exposing her to those types of situations.
Other situations that can cause frustration for the person with dementia include a change of routine or surroundings, feeling like they aren’t being listened to (it’s easy to run around doing stuff for the person without spending any time with them), poor diet, dehydration, lack of sleep, not feeling well. Sometimes lack of stimulation can lead to boredom which leads to frustration and mood swings. Regular interaction with the person is key – if you can take your partner out for a walk or a coffee and break up their day.
If they still get angry, give them space if it’s safe to do so – leave the room and do another task if they are OK to be left alone. When you return, they may have forgotten what made them angry and may be in a completely different mood. Don’t try to reason with the person. Or you can try and distract the person by offering them a cup of tea or playing their favourite song.
Remember that the person may be in pain or discomfort, hungry or thirsty or dehydrated. When was the last time they had something to eat or drink? Look for signs that their gait has changed or if they seem more confused than usual seek medical help.
However, if the anger has come on very suddenly, the person may have a urinary tract infection, which can affect moods, or their medication may need to be reviewed. So always see their GP.