What Are Common Triggers for Agitation in an Adult with Alzheimer’s?

Are you a caregiver for an adult with dementia? Agitation is common and is sometimes caused by avoidable triggers. Read on to learn more.

Elderly person sitting in a leather chair looking at the camera.

Caregiving for a senior loved one who has Alzheimer’s disease or a similar form of dementia can be daunting at times. Figuring out how to handle disease-related issues, from sleep problems to communication difficulties, can have a steep learning curve. As can knowing what might trigger difficult behaviors.

Many people who have Alzheimer’s struggle with agitation. The disease causes neurological changes that may lead to angry outbursts, especially among adults whose verbal skills are impaired. It’s essential for caregivers to learn more about the most common triggers for agitation.

Alzheimer’s and Anger: Minimizing a Loved One’s Triggers

Here are a few triggers that can result in agitation, or even an angry outburst, in an adult with memory impairment:

  • Hectic or noisy environment

For a senior with Alzheimer’s, processing too many things at once isn’t easy. A noisy or chaotic environment, such as a party, a loud television, or even a trip to the shopping mall, can be overly stimulating. It can trigger an angry or agitated response. While retreating to a quiet, calm space may de-escalate the behavior, it’s usually best to try to avoid these situations altogether.

  • New or unfamiliar place

Being in a new place or making changes to the current one may result in agitation. Because short-term memory is usually lost as the disease progresses, even long-familiar environments can be tough to recognize and remember.

Since you can’t always avoid taking the senior to new places, taking a few extra steps to minimize agitation may be the key. That could include bringing along activities, such as a deck of playing cards or an adult coloring book, to keep the senior occupied while you wait.

  • Invasion of personal space

People with dementia are sometimes sensitive to having their personal space invaded. They can feel threatened if someone approaches them too quickly or too loudly. Because peripheral vision is often lost as the disease progresses, approaching from the side can seem equally menacing.

Be sure to make eye contact as you get closer to a loved one who has dementia. Talk quietly to them as you do, remembering to use their name. Give the senior enough personal space so as not to make the interaction feel confrontational.

  • Unaddressed needs

When a person’s verbal skills are impaired, they typically have difficulty conveying how they are feeling. If they are hungry, thirsty, in pain, or need to use the bathroom, not having a way to express their needs can result in anger and agitation. So can being in an environment that is too hot or cold.

If an older loved one is acting out in frustration, try to determine if something is physically wrong. Touch their skin to see if they are cold or if they have a fever that might indicate an infection. Point to different parts of their body and ask if something hurts. Show them to the bathroom to see if they need to use it, and the kitchen to see if they are hungry.

Talk with the Senior’s Doctor

If nothing else seems to work, it might be worth your time to schedule an appointment with your senior loved one’s physician. They may be able to identify an underlying health issue or even a problem with a medication. Try to keep a diary of daily activities, sleep patterns, and diet to share with the physician. It may help them to better pinpoint a problem.

Alzheimer’s and Memory Support at The Wesley Community

If you are concerned that a friend or family member with dementia isn’t getting the assistance they need at home, the support of a memory care program might be the solution. For seniors who live in or around Saratoga Springs, The Wesley Community is an option to consider. Our memory care program is designed to meet the unique needs of older adults with dementia.

To learn more, call 518-587-3600 to set up a time for a visit and private tour!