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Alzheimer’s/Dementia With Agitation: Causes, Prevention & How To Respond

Alzheimer’s/Dementia with Agitation: Causes, Prevention & How to Respond

Caring for an aging loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia can be overwhelming. There are many unexpected symptoms and behaviors that pop up, sometimes overnight. 

Explore this guide on managing, responding to, and understanding the agitated behaviors that come with senior memory problems. You’re not alone in being frustrated, exhausted, and lost. Learn more about how to deal with your aging parent’s agitation. 

Why Alzheimer’s and Dementia Cause Aggressive Behaviors

You’ve known your parent your entire life, and you might feel like their Alzheimer’s disease or dementia has stolen them from you. You may notice more irritability and aggression than you’re used to, especially if your parent was always mild-mannered before they developed dementia symptoms. 

Unfortunately, agitation is a common and serious symptom of age-related memory disorders. Whether your parent has Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, they’re more susceptible to acting out as their disease progresses. 

Life Changes and Moves 

Change can be incredibly overwhelming for seniors with memory problems. 

For example, if your loved one has just moved from their home into a care facility, they’re likely to feel lost and confused. When their surroundings and routine change, they lose what little control they used to have over their daily life. Reacting with anger, agitation, and anxiety can be a normal response to overwhelming circumstances. 


Alzheimer’s disease creates plaque entanglements in the brain, which affect pathways related to memory, reasoning, judgment, and social interaction. As the neurodegenerative disease progresses, your loved one may start to behave in ways you’ve never seen before. Their personality and thought processes may change, leading them to feel agitated.

Unmet Physical Needs

This one might surprise you: seniors with Alzheimer’s or dementia can become angry and anxious when their body needs something. They can’t always communicate or recognize what they need, so their behavior can become confusing and accusatory. 

Always check in with your loved one’s physical status. Are they hungry, thirsty, tired, hot, or cold? These basic bodily functions can have a strong impact on your loved one’s mood and behaviors. 


Certain medications for seniors have unpleasant side effects, like restlessness and agitation. The medications your loved one is on may be influencing their mood and interactions with other people. 

Mental health medications like antipsychotics and SSRIs often cause agitation in aging adults. Consult with your parent’s medical provider to see if medication changes may help their mood and sense of comfort. 

Caring for Your Agitated Loved One 

Knowing is half the battle, but what do you do when your loved one is worked up and acting aggressively? It can take some practice to learn how to care for an agitated loved one without inflaming the situation. Here’s what to know about good caregiving practices for agitated parents with Alzheimer’s and dementia. 

Stay Calm

This is the hardest step of the entire process, but it is essential to make sure your loved one doesn’t get angrier or more anxious. Remain calm in your interactions with them, no matter how they are acting. 

Our nervous systems can coregulate, meaning one person’s calm demeanor can have a relaxing effect on the other person’s behavior. Coregulation is an important part of being a caregiver for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Take deep breaths and remind yourself that the behavior will be over soon. 

Reassure and Validate Your Loved One

Make sure you explain everything you’re doing as you do it and reassure your loved one. They need to know that you’re there to help, not harm them. It might seem obvious to you, but memory problems can cause feelings of paranoia and suspicion in your loved one. 

It’s also important to validate your aging parent’s feelings. They have the right to feel overwhelmed, anxious, and angry, just like anyone else does. The more you validate their emotions, the quicker those emotions can pass. 

Stick to a Structured Routine

Structure and routine are two critical aspects of senior memory care. As a loved one of someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia, you can play a huge role in giving them that sense of structure and safety. 

A steady routine will help prevent aggressive behaviors before they begin. The more safe and secure your loved one feels, the less anxious and angry they may become later on. 

Once your loved one is in a stable routine, try not to change things around very often. There will always be times when change is necessary, but these are also the times when your loved one’s agitation might flare up. Keep that in mind as you make appointments, visit them, and care for them. 

Navigating Memory-Related Agitation 

Remember that as your loved one’s disease progresses, agitation can become worse. You can effectively handle and prevent aggressive behaviors with the right tools and techniques. Follow this guide to ensure both you and your aging parent have positive experiences in their later years.

If you or your family member is considering in-home care as part of a plan to age in place, contact Family Matters In-Home Care today for a free consultation.  Our team is dedicated to supporting your family and helping older adults enjoy life in the comfort of their own home for as long as possible.

Some of the services offered by Family Matter In-Home Care include: Alzheimer’s & Dementia CareBed & Wheelchair Transfer AssistanceCompanionshipHousekeeping & Meal PreparationPersonal CareRecovery Care, and Transportation.

Serving the San Francisco Bay Area and Greater San Diego, Family Matter In-Home Care has offices throughout California including: Campbell, CARoseville, CASan Marcos, CA, and San Mateo, CA.

Carol Pardue-Spears

Carol has worked in the healthcare field for more than forty years. As a Certified Nursing Assistant, she worked for El Camino Hospital in the cardiac unit, Los Gatos Community Hospital, The Women’s Cancer Center in Los Gatos and several home health and hospice agencies. Carol founded Family Matters in 2002 to fill a deficit she witnessed in high-quality, in-home services and care.

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