7 Caregiver Tips for Calming Alzheimer's Agitation

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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As a caregiver of someone with Alzheimer’s, you know that agitation and aggressive behavior can happen from time to time.

There are many reasons for this, but some can be more difficult to identify than others:

  • Pain or physical discomfort. People with Alzheimer’s may not be able to let you know they’re hurt or feeling uncomfortable. Urinary tract infections are not uncommon in Alzheimer’s patients. Constipation or a wet or soiled diaper can also cause discomfort and lead to agitation.

  • Sudden changes and overstimulation. Altering a set routine can be hard for a person with Alzheimer’s. Similarly, new people, large crowds, and loud noises can also be potential triggers for aggressive behavior.

  • Medication side effects. People with Alzheimer’s who take multiple medications are at a greater risk of drug interactions. This could include agitation and aggression.

  • Sadness or frustration. Agitation can arise if someone with Alzheimer’s becomes lonely and feels isolated from other people. The loss of certain freedoms—driving, for example—is another factor that can lead to frustration and anger. Alzheimer’s disease causes confusion, so getting too many instructions at once or being pushed to do something difficult can be frustrating and set off aggressive behavior.

Don’t Ignore the Problem

If you think you see early signs of frustration, agitation or aggression in a loved one with Alzheimer’s, act quickly. You may be able to calm the situation before it escalates. Here are some things you can do to diffuse a situation before someone gets hurt.

1. Be Reassuring

Listen patiently to the person’s concerns, and respond in a calm, soothing voice. Try to understand how the person might be feeling, rather than simply responding to his or her actions. For instance, you might say, “It sounds like you don’t like it when the music is loud. Would you like to turn it down?”

2. Find a Diversion

If you’re able, distract the person by finding a new activity to do, such as music or art, or by offering him or her a snack—anything that might shift the person’s attention away from the source of the frustration.

3. Get Moving

If the person is feeling agitated and restless, try going for a walk or some other light physical activity. This may be a good outlet for his or her energy. Some exercise several hours before bedtime is also a good way to offset restlessness that many people with Alzheimer’s feel in the evening.

4. Don’t Argue

Alzheimer’s patients sometimes hallucinate, which can be either distressing or fairly benign. Don’t try to convince them what they see isn’t real. If the person seems to be living in the past, talk with him or her as if you’re there, too. If the hallucination is upsetting, try talking in a soothing voice and patting him or her gently—it may distract the person from the hallucination and turn the focus toward you.

5. Keep Safety Objects Nearby

Photographs, keepsakes, and other personal items can have a soothing effect on people with Alzheimer’s, helping them to feel secure. Have these items on hand to help remind the person of his or her happy memories.

6. Calm Yourself, Too

Sometimes a caregiver’s stress can trigger agitation or aggression in an Alzheimer’s patient. Take an occasional break to clear your head and recharge yourself.

7. Call for Help

If the situation is out of your control, don’t be afraid to call for help from other friends, family members, or even 911. In a serious situation, you may need to restrain the person until help arrives. Talk with your loved one’s doctor about medications that may help prevent episodes of aggression, or other ways to address any potential problems before they get to this point.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Aug 21
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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