Alzheimer’s: Dealing with Mood Swings

As the effects of Alzheimer’s intensify, emotional distress may become an ongoing consideration in your day-to-day routine. Frustration, fear, and a lack of independence can create considerable strain between the Alzheimer’s patient and their homecare provider. Empathy will be your best ally in your quest to disarm these potentially heated situations. Below, we’ll walk through some common scenarios which you may encounter while caring for your patient or loved one, and explore coping strategies to ensure that your relationship stay fruitful and productive.

Handling a frustrated individual

Once a self-reliant person, the Alzheimer’s patient suddenly finds themselves under the constant supervision of another individual. This shift from independence to dependence is quite necessary, but it does create a challenge to their personal amnesty. If your patient encounters irritation as you attempt to assist them, remember the moments in your own life when you encountered the same variety of frustration – it’s quite a similar emotion to the trademark angst which defined our teenaged years. Sitting and “stewing” in such a volatile state only serves to intensify the emotional discomfort it creates… which is why scheduling will be your greatest ally when encountering such a challenge. The reminder of an upcoming appointment can disrupt the cyclic thoughts which fuel such frustration, and offer an organic strategy for you to change the topic of conversation. Once Alzheimer’s occurs, your patient will gradually lose access to the same kind of spontaneous activities which once filled their day. Since recreation can no longer come from such “impulsive” behaviour, the need for emotional and intellectual stimulation falls largely upon your ability to schedule pre-planned activities.

Coping with anger

Hostile emotions can sometimes manifest in your patient – but it is never your job to return that anger in any form. If you provide care in a nursing home, it’s essential to keep the support staff updated regarding your patient’s emotional state – so they can continue to monitor and alleviate this discomfort when you’re not on-site. If you provide care to an individual in a private residence, you must never lose sight of the importance of remaining calm.

A key coping strategy is to stabilize their emotional state – not intensify it. Instead of interrupting an angry stream of comments, instead introduce additional stimulus to the environment. Turning on some music or a talk radio program can be an extremely calming influence. If it’s a nice day outside, open a window and allow a warm breeze to flow through the room. Often, a slight environmental shift can be enough to disrupt an angered patient. If it’s a winter day and you have access to a fireplace, a crackling fire can offer a soothing distraction.

Counteracting sadness

Our notion of identity is largely defined by our past experiences and relationships, so losing access to these memories can create a persistent sense of displacement. Having a photo album accessible can transform such a volatile emotional state into a pleasant moment of nostalgia. A few well placed questions is often enough to draw out the story behind certain images. Jokes can also provide a pleasant hedge against tragedy, especially if they encourage your patient or loved one to start sharing their own silly tales and quips.

Josh Byer is an author, blogger, and copywriter residing in Vancouver, BC. His article appears compliments of, a free-of-charge housing resource for Canadian retirees and senior citizens.

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