We’ve all seen the stereotype of the angry elderly neighbor portrayed in movies and TV shows. But when you’re caring for a senior parent who’s aging in place at home, and their behavioral abuse is directed towards you, it can be upsetting and stressful. Typically brought on by dementia, this “responsive behavior” includes aggressive verbal and occasional physical outbursts as your loved one inappropriately acts out what they’re feeling. As a caregiver, there are several effective ways you can respond to aggressive language and behaviors.

What Triggers Responsive Behaviors?

Psychologists have found that a senior’s aggressive language and behaviors are triggered by stimuli that fall within three categories: biological, social, or psychological. Again, they are more frequent in those who have mild to moderate dementia.

Social Triggers

These social triggers can induce inappropriate behavior in seniors by confusing, frightening, or upsetting them:

  • Large, unfamiliar crowds
  • Boredom
  • Seeing someone who reminds them of a person from their past
  • Unfamiliar surroundings
  • Experiencing a person or place that induces fear

Biological Triggers

There are biological triggers that can cause a senior to act out, including:

  • Medication side effects
  • Physical discomfort
  • Injury or illness
  • Hallucinations or delusions
  • Difficulty seeing or hearing

Psychological Triggers

And finally, aging experts have identified several psychological factors that can trigger aggressive language and outbursts, including:

  • Fear
  • Feelings of anxiety, paranoia, loneliness, or mistrust
  • Memory loss
  • Losing touch with reality
  • Trouble processing information

When a Senior Acts Out

When you’re involved in a real time situation during which a senior is verbally or even physically attacking you, try to diffuse their anger by:

  1. Taking a deep breath while remembering they aren’t directing their aggression towards you specifically.
  2. Identifying and adapting quickly to their needs.
  3. Remaining calm, even if it means walking away for a few minutes.
  4. Refraining from showing alarm, fear or anger, even when you want to. Doing so could agitate the senior further, escalating the situation.
  5. Speaking to them in a calm and reassuring voice.
  6. Listening to what they are saying, and acknowledging their feelings, as it could help figure out what triggered them.
  7. Always maintaining eye contact when speaking to them.
  8. Attempting to understand what triggered their outburst.
  9. If you can’t diffuse the situation, or eliminate the trigger, try distracting them with another activity. Give them “space” while doing so.

Afterwards, remember to focus on the person, and not their aggressive language and behaviors. Don’t punish them, or try to discuss what happened, as they could get agitated again. They may still be feeling upset, so try to carry on normally in a reassuring way. Later, speak with someone you trust about the incident. If it won’t mentally go away, seek additional counseling from a doctor, family members, or local support group.

Preventing Future Episodes

Once your loved one’s actions have been discussed with their doctor, and any biological triggers ruled out, there are therapeutic approaches you can use to help prevent another anger episode, including:

  • Keeping them busy. Involve them in a simple activity like folding laundry or reorganizing a closet to keep their mind occupied.
  • Music therapy. Playing soothing music around the house may help calm them down. Studies have found that music especially relaxes people with dementia.
  • Pet therapy. Again, research has determined that the reassuring touch and love provided by cats and dogs helps reduce responsive behaviors, especially for seniors with dementia.
  • Art therapy. Art is a great way for your senior to express their emotions, thoughts or feelings.
  • Doll therapy. This is a relatively new form of therapy for people with dementia. The senior is asked to care for the doll as if it were their own child.
  • Exercise. This is great for reducing stress, combatting boredom, and promoting better health. Something as simple as a daily walk may help prevent angry behavior, but before starting an exercise program discuss it with their doctor.

Before your loved one’s persistent responsive behavior starts wearing you down to the breaking point, ask a family member to step in for a while, or hire a professional caregiver.

Caregivers That Are Trained to Handle Aggression

Dealing with a senior loved one who’s acting aggressively towards you can be upsetting and exhausting. When you need a break, First In Care has trained caregivers who can step in and provide the expert, compassionate care your loved one deserves. Including seniors with dementia, our aids know how to recognize and safely diffuse aggressive language and behaviors when they occur. Our highly trained aids also provide services including light housekeeping, personal hygiene, meals, shopping, transportation and companionship, when and where you need them. To learn more about taking care of an elderly loved one who acts aggressively, or why First In Care is quickly becoming the go-to source for senior home health care in Manatee County, FL, visit: www.firstincare.com now.