5 Causes of Alzheimer's Outbursts

For people taking care of elderly parents with Alzheimer's or dementia, one of the biggest challenges is dealing with outbursts of agitation and aggression.

Techniques for managing Alzheimer's aggression such as re-directing the person's attention or medication can certainly help. But Cindy Steele, an RN and Nurse Scholar for Copper Ridge, a residential care community, says the key is finding out what is causing the outburst. "Dismissing aggression as a normal behavior associated with Alzheimer's doesn't enable the caregiver to fix whatever is causing the outburst. Why do they seem to get upset? What causes it?" says Steele, who focuses on behavior management for Alzheimer's and dementia.

Find an Alzheimer's Care Community »

She says agitation and aggression are typically caused by one or more of these five factors:

Cognitive Impairment

Sometimes caregivers overestimate what their parent with Alzheimer's or dementia is capable of accomplishing. If a person with Alzheimer's is asked to do a task, and they are not able to complete it, they get upset and frustrated, which results in an outburst. Caregivers must adjust their expectations to their parent's capabilities. And remember that Alzheimer's and dementia are degenerative diseases. Parent's abilities will decline over time, which means expectations must be shifted continually.

Psychological Disorders

Steele says that 40% of people with Alzheimer's develop depression, due to a neuro-chemical imbalance in the brain. Anxiety disorders and delusions also occur quite commonly in people with Alzheimer's. Once these imbalances are identified and diagnosed, medication can be prescribed that has proved to help tremendously.

Physical Problems

Outbursts might be associated with physical problems. The person might have a headache, a rash, constipation, or fatigue. This means caregivers must be vigilant about watching their elderly parent's physical well-being and noticing when changes occur. When people with Alzheimer's have physical problems, they might be unable to tell the caregiver. The behavior – in the form of a tantrum – is their form of communication.


The person may be reacting to an uncomfortable environment. For example, a room may be too cold, too noisy, or too crowed. Their inability to clearly communicate their discomfort turns into an outburst.


People with Alzheimer's react and respond to how a caregiver approaches them. Trying to rush them, or force them to do something they don't want to do can result in agitation. How you approach the person with Alzheimer's is key, Steele says. Use a gentle tone of voice, but don't be condescending. Don't rush them as they try to complete a task, even if they are moving at a frustratingly slow pace. Don't demand that they do something or bark orders at them. Ask them. Use calming gestures and gentle touch.

Getting to the root cause of outbursts will help caregivers manage behavior more effectively and may lesson the frequency of agitation and aggression.

For more information, on Copper Ridge, and the EMA family of faith-based residential communities for seniors, visit www.copperridge.org

Read more about: causes of alzheimer's
27 people are discussing this article with 34 comments

Free Helpful Guides

Veterans Benefits Guide
Find federal benefits available to your family.
Get your veterans guide ›
Home Care Guide
How to find, hire and manage home care.
Get the home care guide ›
Caregivers' Survival Guide
Everything you need to care
for an elderly family member.
Get the caregivers' guide ›

Veterans Benefits Guide
Find federal benefits available to your family.
Home Care Guide
How to find, hire and manage home care.
Get helpful information and emotional
support to help you care for a parent
or a loved one. It's FREE!

©2016 AgingCare, LLC. All rights reserved.  About Us  |  Advertise with Us  |  Sitemap


The material of this web site is provided for informational purposes only. AgingCare.com does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment;
or legal, financial or any other professional services advice. Use of this site is subject to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.