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Caring for Agitation in Alzheimer's Disease

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Managing Dementia Mood Changes: Tips for Alzheimer’s Caregivers

Medically Reviewed By Lauren Castiello, MS, AGNP-C

People with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia may experience sudden mood changes. Caregivers and family members may be able to manage changes in mood by checking for unmet needs, communicating respectfully, or redirecting a person’s attention. It may also help to talk with the person’s doctor about medications that may be able to stabilize their mood. If you’re finding it difficult to manage mood changes in a person with dementia, talk with a healthcare professional.

This article discusses ways to manage dementia mood changes.

1. Check for unmet needs

An older adult and a younger adult looking at a book together
Photography by Maskot/Getty Images

Alzheimer’s disease can affect Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source a person’s language abilities. As a result, they may be unable to verbally express physical or emotional discomfort. Unmet needs may instead trigger a change in their mood.

Here are some steps you can take to determine whether a person has unmet needs that may be making them agitated or restless:

  • Make sure the person is not too hot or cold and adjust the room temperature or their clothing as needed.
  • People with Alzheimer’s disease may lose track of when they eat and drink, so check in to see whether they may be hungry or thirsty. Try offering a snack or beverage and keep a record of meals and how much is consumed.
  • Sleep disturbances are another common Alzheimer’s symptom that may affect mood, so suggest a rest or short nap.
  • Someone with dementia may not mention or realize they need to go to the bathroom. It may help to keep track of trips to the bathroom in case the person may need to go.
  • Try to assess whether there is pain or physical discomfort Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source that needs to be addressed with medications or other treatments.

2. Create a calm environment

For people with Alzheimer’s disease, an overstimulating environment may trigger Trusted Source National Institute on Aging Governmental authority Go to source mood changes. A loud room or even background noise can be agitating, and even a TV might be too much. 

Try to create a peaceful setting, which may help lessen changes in mood caused by overstimulation. You can put on calming music or use a sound machine to help put the person at ease, and make sure the lighting is pleasant and soft.

Learn more about agitation in Alzheimer’s disease.

3. Redirect their attention

If someone with dementia becomes irritable or anxious and you can’t communicate effectively with words, it may help to change the subject and redirect their attention.

You could discuss happy memories, play a favorite home video or song, or give the person one of their favorite books. You could also change the topic to an upcoming appointment or task.

Redirection can be helpful in managing a sudden mood change, so have ideas and tools ready in case you need them.

4. Be understanding rather than confrontational

It’s essential to remember that people with dementia can’t help their mood changes. Don’t take it personally if a person becomes angry or irritated. Instead, it helps to be respectful and acknowledge their feelings.

It’s also important to not try and correct Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source someone if they are wrong or mistaken. For example, if the person is upset about a relative not coming to visit but the relative passed away, simply acknowledge that you know how much they care for that person. The goal is to support and recognize their reality and emotions.

Learn more about talking with a parent with dementia.

5. Take breaks and get support

It can be mentally, physically, and emotionally taxing to care for someone with dementia. You need to take care of yourself as well, and it’s OK to seek help if you’re feeling overwhelmed.

If you need a break, you might ask a capable friend or family member to help care for your loved one for a short time. If you need more support, your loved one’s doctor may also be able to recommend local care services.

The Alzheimer’s Association also provides online support groups and other resources for people with dementia and their caregivers and family members.

6. Talk with a doctor

If a person’s mood changes seem severe or potentially dangerous, talk with a healthcare professional about medications or other treatments that may help manage them. Getting help as soon as possible can improve quality of life for both you and your loved one.

Learn more tips for Alzheimer’s disease caregivers and families.

Summary

Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia can cause sudden changes in mood. To manage these changes, it may be beneficial to check for unmet needs, create a calm environment, and redirect a person’s attention.

Some behavioral or mood changes may also be manageable with medications or other forms of treatment. If you need help managing mood changes in someone with dementia, talk with a qualified healthcare professional.

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Medical Reviewer: Lauren Castiello, MS, AGNP-C
Last Review Date: 2024 Feb 1
View All Caring for Agitation in Alzheimer's Disease Articles
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