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Elderly Temper Tantrums: Understanding & How To Handle Your Loved One

Elderly Temper Tantrums: Understanding & How to Handle Your Loved One

Taking care of an aging loved one is never easy. Angry outbursts can make you feel exhausted, frustrated, and at a loss for what to do. Understanding why these outbursts happen and what you can do to handle them effectively can help you better navigate your loved one’s hardest moments and enjoy the time you spend together more fully.

Why Your Loved One Has Emotional Outbursts 

It can help both you and your aging loved one to understand what’s really going on in their mind during a temper tantrum. Seniors with cognitive challenges, like memory problems and confusion, still experience normal human emotions. Their feelings can quickly turn from happiness to anger back to contentment. 

The emotional difference between a healthy, regulated adult and your aging loved one is simple. Your loved one doesn’t have the memory, cognitive skills, and emotional tools to understand why they’re feeling what they’re feeling. 

Imagine you start to feel scared, hurt, angry, or even hungry, but you don’t know how to communicate those feelings to your caregiver. Worse yet, some aging adults have trouble identifying their emotions in the first place. It makes sense that they release their feelings the only way they know how: through tantrums. 

Memory Disorders: Alzheimer’s and Dementia

Certain health conditions may cause an increase in your aging parent’s outbursts. Conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are associated with personality changes. This happens due to changes in your loved one’s neural networks and brain cells. 

It’s important to note that without proper treatment, your loved one’s cognitive health may not improve. You can do your best to support them each day, but don’t forget to turn to a medical professional for extra help. 

How to Handle Elderly Temper Tantrums With Grace 

Temper tantrums are common in young children, and you can often apply the same advice to elderly temper tantrums. However, it’s important to understand that your aging loved one is not a child. They still need dignity, respect, and as much autonomy as you can safely give them. 

Here are some tips on dealing with their emotional tantrums in a calm, productive way. 

Don’t Engage in Arguments 

Arguing doesn’t solve anything, particularly if your loved one has a cognitive health condition. Engaging in heated, repetitive arguments with them will only prolong their negative emotions — and yours. 

Instead, remain as quiet and calm as possible. You can politely redirect your loved one by saying something along the lines of, “I don’t want to talk about this right now; let’s do another activity.” You may also simply change the subject. Your even-tempered demeanor will likely influence their mood and behavior in a positive way. 

Validate Their Feelings 

Validating your loved one’s difficult emotions can go a long way in resolving tantrums. They often just want to feel heard, understood, and supported. 

Use validating statements like: 

  • “I see you’re upset. I would be, too.”
  • “It’s okay to feel angry/sad/frustrated right now.” 
  • “You’re having some tough feelings. I’m here for you.”
  • “I’m sorry that you’re feeling this way. I hear you.” 
  • “It makes sense to feel this way. How can I help you?” 

These simple phrases may help you avoid long temper tantrums altogether. At the very least, they’ll make your loved one feel supported and secure in your relationship. This is especially important if you’re their full-time caregiver. 

Set Gentle Boundaries

Whether your loved one has memory problems or not, you still don’t have to accept hurtful behavior. You’re well within your right as a caregiver to set healthy, gentle boundaries. 

If your loved one is insulting you, physically harming you, or repeating tantrums over and over, it’s okay to tell them to stop. It’s important to remain calm and neutral while you do this, which is easier said than done. However, with enough repetition, your boundaries will become clear to your loved one. 

If this means walking away from them after you’ve left them in a safe place, go for it. You’re allowed to take breaks when you need them — you’re only human. 

Focus On Positive Activities 

If you know your loved one has tantrums at a certain time of day, prepare a relaxing activity ahead of time. This can help you both focus on the positives, avoiding many preventable arguments. Just make sure your activities are fairly straightforward to avoid overstimulating and frustrating your loved one further. 

Caring for Your Loved One With Emotional Problems 

Every human being experiences negative emotions daily. What matters is how you support your loved one — and yourself — through them. You don’t have to stay caught in an endless battle with the person you love the most. 

Make sure you take time to care for yourself as well. You’ll be a better, more patient caregiver when your own cup is full. Ask for outside support whenever you need it, and keep in mind that temper tantrums don’t last forever. 

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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