When you’re facing a loved one who’s unexpectedly angry, try following these steps:

  • Take a break. Sometimes just pausing and coming back in 5 or 10 minutes works. Try saying, “Mom, I’m so sorry I misunderstood what you wanted for breakfast. I’ll be back in a few minutes to check in with you.”
  • Look for triggers. Think about what happened right before the outburst. Can you detect a pattern to avoid in the future? Some persons with dementia get very tired in the afternoon, for example, and may get angry if you try to engage them in activities then. Line up more activities in the morning and give them a break in the afternoon.
  • Watch for pain or illness. The person with dementia may have a toothache, arthritis pain, or simply be sick. Dementia expert David Troxel recommends watching for abrupt changes. “If a happy-go-lucky person is suddenly moody and angry, that is usually a good sign that it’s a physical health issue.”
  • Bring up a favorite subject from the person’s life story. Talking about the person’s childhood, favorite foods, or experiences can sometimes change a bad mood into a good one.
  • Apologizing is tough, but it’s sometimes the best response to anger—even if it’s not your fault! Saying, “Dad, I’m so sorry that I misunderstood you. I’ll do better next time. I love you” can turn that anger into a smile.