Tips for Caregivers: Calming an Angry Elder


Elderly individuals often face various emotional challenges, and one of the most challenging emotions to deal with is anger. As a caregiver, it’s essential to understand how to handle and diffuse aggressive behavior effectively, ensuring that both you and your elderly loved one can maintain a harmonious relationship.

As caregivers, we must acknowledge that anger is a natural and valid emotion, even in elderly people. Understanding and addressing this anger with empathy and patience can significantly improve the quality of care provided.

Understanding Anger in Elders – Reasons for Anger

Elderly anger can be a complex issue, with a variety of possible underlying causes. Some of the most common reasons for anger in older adults include:

  • Physical health problems. Pain, illness, and disability can all be major sources of anger and frustration for older adults. For example, a person with chronic pain may have emotional outbursts when they are unable to do the things they used to enjoy. 
  • Cognitive health decline. People with dementia and other forms of cognitive impairment can have episodes of anger problems. As cognitive abilities decline, older adults may become more irritable and frustrated, and they may have difficulty controlling their emotions.
  • Mental health issues. Depression, anxiety, memory loss, and other mental health conditions can also contribute to anger problems in older adults. These conditions can make it difficult for older adults to regulate their emotions and cope with stress.
  • Social isolation. Loneliness and social isolation can also be triggers for anger. Older adults who feel disconnected from others may become more irritable and resentful.
  • Life changes. Major life changes, such as retirement, the death of a spouse, introduction of adult day care, or a move to a new home, can also be stressful and lead to anger problems.

In addition to these general factors, there are a number of specific things that can trigger anger in older adults, such as:

  • Feeling helpless or out of control. Older adults who feel like they have lost their independence or autonomy may become angry and frustrated.
  • Feeling misunderstood or ignored. Adults who feel like their needs and concerns are not being heard may become angry and resentful.
  • Being treated with disrespect. Older folks who feel like they are being treated unfairly or dismissively may become angry and indignant.
  • Being denied something they want or need. Older adults who feel like they are being deprived of something important to them may become angry and defiant.

It is important to note that anger is a normal human emotion, and it is perfectly normal for older adults to experience anger from time to time. 

Strategies for Calming an Angry Elder

Active listening

  • Give your loved one your full attention. Put away your phone and other distractions, and make eye contact with them.
  • Listen without judgment or interruption. Let your loved one express their thoughts and feelings without trying to fix the problem or solve it for them.
  • Acknowledge your loved one’s feelings. Say things like, “I see that you’re angry,” or “I understand that you’re frustrated.”
  • Ask clarifying questions. This shows that you’re listening and that you want to understand their perspective.

Stay calm and patient

  • Take a deep breath. This will help you center yourself and stay calm.
  • Remind yourself that it’s not about you. Your loved one is not angry at you personally. They are angry at the situation or at the feelings they are experiencing.
  • Avoid arguing or getting defensive. This will only escalate the situation.
  • Try to see things from your loved one’s perspective. This can help you to understand their anger and to respond in a more compassionate way.

Validate their feelings

  • Let your loved one know that their feelings are valid. Say things like, “It’s okay to feel angry,” or “I understand why you’re feeling this way.”
  • Avoid trying to minimize or dismiss their feelings. Telling them that they shouldn’t be angry or that they’re overreacting will only make them feel worse.
  • Offer your support. Let your loved one know that you are there for them and that you want to help them through this.

Identify triggers

  • Talk to your loved one about what makes them angry. What are some of the things that typically set them off?
  • Once you know what their triggers are, you can start to develop strategies for avoiding them or coping with them in a healthy way. For example, if your loved one gets angry when they are tired, you can help them to establish a regular sleep schedule. Or, if your loved one gets angry when they are in pain, you can work with their doctor to find ways to manage their pain more effectively.

Distraction techniques

  • If your loved one is starting to get angry, try to distract them by redirecting their attention to something else. This could be anything from talking about a topic they enjoy to playing a game or doing an activity together.
  • It is important to choose distractions that are appropriate for your loved one’s interests and abilities. For example, if your loved one has dementia, you may need to choose simpler distractions, such as listening to music or looking at pictures.

Promote a comforting environment

  • Create a peaceful and soothing environment for your loved one. This could involve things like dimming the lights, playing calming music, or offering them a cup of tea or coffee.
  • Avoid exposing your loved one to loud noises, bright lights, or other things that could trigger their anger.
  • Make sure that your loved one has a comfortable place to sit or lie down. This will help them to relax and feel more at ease.

It is important to remember that everyone is different and what works for one person may not work for another. It is also important to be patient and understanding. It may take some time and effort to find the best strategies for calming your angry loved one.

Communicating Effectively

The Power of Kind Words

The words we choose can have a powerful impact on the people around us, especially when they are angry. When communicating with an angry elder, it is important to use gentle and kind words. This will help them to feel more respected and valued.

Here are some tips for using kind words when communicating with an angry elder:

  • Avoid using accusatory or blaming language. Instead, focus on expressing your own feelings and concerns. For example, instead of saying, “You’re always so angry,” say, “I’m feeling hurt and upset when you speak to me in that way.”
  • Use “I” statements instead of “you” statements. This will help to avoid putting your loved one on the defensive. For example, instead of saying, “You’re being unreasonable,” say, “I’m feeling frustrated when we can’t seem to agree.”
  • Be respectful and understanding. Even if you don’t agree with your loved one, it is important to respect their feelings and their right to express them.

Non-Verbal Communication

Non-verbal communication is just as important as verbal communication when it comes to calming an angry elder. Non-verbal cues such as eye contact, facial expressions, and body language can convey understanding, care, and support.

Here are some tips for using non-verbal communication to calm an angry elder:

  • Make eye contact. Eye contact shows that you are paying attention and that you are interested in what your loved one has to say.
  • Use a soft and calming tone of voice. Avoid yelling or speaking in a raised voice.
  • Maintain a relaxed and open body posture. This shows that you are approachable and that you are not feeling threatened.
  • Offer a comforting touch. A gentle pat on the arm or a hug can be very reassuring.

By using kind words and non-verbal communication, you can show your loved one that you care about them and that you are there to support them. This can help to de-escalate the situation and calm their anger.

Seeking Professional Help

If your loved one’s intense anger is severe or disruptive, or if you are struggling to cope with it yourself, it is important to seek professional help. A doctor or mental health professional can help to identify any underlying medical or psychological issues that may be contributing to your loved one’s anger. They can also provide guidance on anger management techniques and treatment on how to manage anger issues in a healthy way.

Here are some examples of when to seek professional help:

  • Your loved one’s anger is causing problems in their relationships or at work.
  • Your loved one’s anger is leading to destructive abusive behaviors, such as self-harm or violence.
  • Your loved one’s angry outbursts are making it difficult for you to care for them safely.
  • You are feeling overwhelmed and stressed by your loved one’s anger.

Self-Care for Caregivers

Caregiving can be a demanding and stressful job. It is important to take care of yourself physically and emotionally in order to be able to provide the best possible care for your loved one. Respite care, or taking a break from caregiving, is important for caregivers to consider when feeling overwhelmed or burnt out. 

Calming an angry elder requires patience, empathy, and effective communication. By understanding the causes, signs, and employing the strategies discussed here, caregivers can create a supportive and peaceful environment for their elderly loved ones.