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Behavioral Problems in Older Adults

elderly behavioral issues

Family members caring for aging loved ones often deal with unusual or upsetting behaviors from the person in their care.
If you are a caregiver to an elderly family member, you can expect to experience anything from impulsivity and temper tantrums to anger outbursts, hostility, and hallucinations.

Late-life for many aging adults is affected by dementia or other illness, causing personality changes and behavioral problems.
Many aging individuals experience difficulties in adjusting to aging. Your senior family member may have problems accepting the losses (of health, loved ones, social status, etc.) in their life, so dealing with their mood can become very stressful.

What to Do When Your Elderly Mother Starts Behaving Angry?

It can be very upsetting when you witness your mother’s temper tantrums and angry outbursts. However, these behaviors most commonly occur due to illness or strong emotions such as sadness, fear, powerlessness, confusion, or any combination of these.

Understanding what causes your elderly mother to start behaving aggressively can help determine how to manage this behavior without getting too stressed.

Why Do Aging Adults Experience Anger and Aggression?

Aging persons with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia often experience personality changes and cognitive impairment that cause irritability and mood swings.

Angry outbursts and aggression are common with dementia, and it may get worse as the condition progresses.

Also, anxiety and depression that often develop in seniors may cause your loved one to lash out with aggression.

Other factors that can cause behavior changes to involve:

  • Chronic or unmanaged pain
  • Lack of sleep
  • Underlying medical issues
  • An adverse reaction to a medication

Managing mood swings and anger in the elderly with dementia can be very difficult. So, learning about anger prevention and management can help relieve caregiver stress and make caregiving easier.

Try to stay calm when your elderly mother starts acting angry. Don’t reason with them about their behavior, as this can only make things worse.

Keep your parent’s surroundings safe and calm, providing structure and routine at all times. Predictability and structure give a sense of familiarity and can have a calming effect.

If your mother’s angry outburst won’t calm down, contact her health provider for advice and medications.

What is the Most Common Mental Illness in the Elderly?

The most common mental health disorder in the elderly is depression. More than six million Americans age 65 and older suffer from depression. However, this mental health condition is not a normal part of aging.

What Causes Depression in the Elderly?

Your loved one’s depression can be caused by:

  • Chronic illness
  • Injury
  • Stressful life events
  • Pain or discomfort
  • Dementia and decline in cognitive functions
  • Loneliness
  • Grief

Some aging adults also experience a reduced sense of purpose, which often causes anxiety and depression.

Aging adults with Alzheimer’s or other dementia often experience depression as their cognitive impairment progresses. Your loved one with dementia may feel sad and often cry, feel desperate and hopeless, experience sudden mood swings, and become restless and easily irritated.

Depression in the elderly can be hard to recognize and diagnose, as it often presents itself in less apparent symptoms. However, some typical signs of depression may also be present. These commonly involve a decrease in energy, loss of interest in usual activities, sleep problems, irritability, feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness, and fatigue.

Also, your elderly loved one may experience difficulties concentrating, memory issues, guilt, and shame. They may have suicidal thoughts or even attempt suicide.

The most effective treatment strategies for depression include medication and psychotherapy.

Dementia in the Aging Population

Dementia is another common health condition in the elderly. The term dementia describes a group of symptoms that boil down to a deterioration in cognitive functions, behavior, personality, and social skills. The severity of this decline impairs the older adult’s normal day-to-day activities.

The most common form of progressive dementia is Alzheimer’s disease that affects 60 to 80 percent of the elderly with dementia. While dementia is not a normal part of aging, nearly half of people aged 85 or older experience some dementia.

Dementia progresses slowly, and the person typically suffers from mild symptoms initially so that you may miss the signs.

Nevertheless, some of the first symptoms of dementia can involve:

  • Memory loss
  • Impaired reasoning and judgment
  • Problems with self-management
  • A decline in communication skills
  • An impaired ability to focus and pay attention

In the last stages, when symptoms of dementia are most severe, the illness affects all aspects of the person’s life, typically causing them to become utterly dependent on others for primary care.

Dementia and depression can cause mood swings, even if your loved one hasn’t experienced them before.

Managing mood swings, irritability, depression, and anger in the elderly with dementia can be draining. So, understanding what causes your elderly parent’s mood swings and angry outbursts can help you experience empathy and prevent meltdowns and aggressive outbursts.

How do You deal with a Difficult Elderly Mother?

No matter how unsettling your mother’s new behavior issues may be, always keep in mind that her anger and aggressive behavior come from feelings of confusion and discomfort. Don’t judge or try to discipline your elderly mother with dementia or depression for her behavior.

Aging adults with dementia typically struggle with a loss of control over their emotions, memory, and essential life functions, which may cause severe behavior changes.

If you understand what causes your mother’s anger and aggression, it will be easier to manage those triggers and prevent aggressive eruptions.

To deal with a difficult elderly mother, follow the next few guidelines.

  • When possible, avoid situations that trigger anger and aggression
  • Don’t reason or argue with your aggressive or angry mother
  • Never use force or try to control your mother during angry outbursts and meltdowns physically
  • Always use a friendly and calm tone when talking to your difficult elderly mother
  • Communicate softly but directly
  • Step back when she becomes agitated or aggressive
  • Provide care in a relaxed manner
  • Be reassuring and supportive
  • Find someone to take over when you feel overwhelmed
  • Never leave your mother unattended during temper tantrums and angry outburst

What Do You Do if Your Mother Becomes Mentally Ill?

Mental illness can cause many challenges for aging adults, their families, and caregivers. It can make adapting to life changes more difficult, causing your mother to refuse home care, avoid the company of her caregiver, or say no to your decision to move her to an assisted-care facility.

Most common age-related concerns such as loneliness, grief, declining health, or the loss of freedom and independence can generate anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.

Patients with dementia and mental illness usually don’t like being around others. The elderly with depression often feel sad and hopeless, cry, and show mood swings, agitated, or angry behavior.

Your mother may also feel overwhelmed, confused. Studies show that confusion is the most common cause of anger and aggression in people who have dementia.

Make sure to gather as much information about your mother’s mental illness as possible and ensure she takes her medication as prescribed.

Keep communication concise and friendly and be patient, supportive, and loving. Offer a listening ear and encourage your mother to express her feelings. Show that you there for her.

Handling mood swings and anger in dementia patients can be very hard, so don’t hesitate to seek professional support.

To avoid caregiver burnout, set the boundaries, and make self-care your priority. To manage caregiver stress, try some of the following:

  • Practice mindfulness or relaxation
  • Exercise regularly
  • Stick to healthy sleep habits
  • Eat nutritious foods
  • Stay in touch with friends and family
  • Join caregiver support groups
  • Seek counseling

Why is My Elderly Mother So Angry?

To successfully manage your elderly mother’s anger, you need to understand what causes it. This will make you aware of her feelings and help you offer support and care.

If your mother has dementia, her anger can be caused by various emotional, physical, and cognitive factors.

Emotional Factors. Your mother’s anger and aggression may result from negative emotions such as loneliness, monotony, sadness, guilt, shame, or grief.

Physical Factors.  Tiredness, discomfort, ongoing or severe pain, exhaustion, or immobility may cause your elderly mother to feel frustrated and angry.

Cognitive Factors. Confusion, memory loss, impaired decision-making, and decline in language and communication skills are common cognitive factors that cause anger and aggression in people with dementia.

Are Rudeness and Bad Temper Signs of Dementia?

Rudeness and bad temper in seniors can be one of the first signs of Alzheimer’s. Persons with dementia often display aggressive behavior that includes rudeness, verbal aggression, lashing out, and physical aggression. Your aging loved one can shout, scream, and become verbally abusive due to personality changes and cognitive decline in dementia.

If your loved one suddenly starts going through mood swings or they become irritable, short-tempered, anxious, or angry, they may be experiencing the first stages of dementia.

Also, impulsiveness, aggression, or paranoia in aging adults can be caused by stroke, grief, chronic underlying illnesses, or sleep deprivation during a prolonged time.

What Helps Elderly Anxiety?

To help your loved one manage anxiety:

  • Try to recognize what triggers the feelings of discomfort and uneasiness
  • Help your elderly family member avoid or learn to handle these triggers
  • Ask their doctor about medication therapy and psychotherapy

Help them maintain their daily routine and encourage them to practice meditation and relaxation. Take them to nature trips and make sure your loved one spends time outside. Connecting with nature can alleviate stress, anxiety, and depression and help the elderly feel more energized.

Play music, your loved one finds pleasurable as research shows that music can reduce stress, reduce pain, and promote relaxation.

Encourage regular exercise. Even if your aging family member is challenged by limited mobility, there are exercises that they can do, such as upper-body yoga and similar exercises.

Lastly, offer support and reassure your elderly family member that you’ll always be there for them. A caregiver’s understanding, support, and empathy make the older adult’s life more pleasant and make caregiving more comfortable and less stressful.

However, if you are concerned about your loved one’s safety, contact their health care provider.