In Part 1 of Senior Tantrums and Meltdowns we discussed why the elderly have meltdowns (diminished physical capacity, diminished mental capacity, and medication) and how to prevent meltdowns (encourage independence, redirect, and avoid situations). But unfortunately not all elderly outbursts can be avoided. So let’s figure out how to handle them when they do happen.
How to Deal with Senior Tantrums When They Happen
You cannot avoid or redirect an elderly individual every time they begin to become upset. Sometimes you will miss the early clues or they will just out-of-the-blue have a senior temper tantrum. Other times you will be involved in a non-negotiable activity or discussion when they have a meltdown. Here are some tips to help you deal with those moments of temper when they do happen.
Affirm—Acknowledge their anger, “You are angry about XYZ.” Sometimes hearing the issue spoken out loud helps the senior put it into perspective and helps them to calm down. Also, just knowing that someone sees their anger can help some people realize that they are not alone in dealing with a situation.
Remember Their Condition—Patients with advanced dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease commonly have tantrums or sudden outbursts for no apparent reason or for very minor reasons. Even if their anger is directed to you, it is your responsibility as a caregiver to be the one to diffuse or handle the situation. Remember, stay calm and try to sooth your senior. If all else fails, try to calm yourself. You can only handle the situation effectively if you are somewhat calm. If you need time and space to calm yourself down, find a safe room or place for your senior patient and excuse yourself to another room while you do what you need to do to relax. Call a friend, read a magazine, count to 10 and practice deep breathing, try anything you need to do to stay calm and not react aggressively to their anger.
Stand Your Ground—If they begin to direct their anger at you by launching personal attacks, immediately respond. You are a good person who deserves to be treated respectfully. Simply tell your elderly charge, “It is inappropriate to treat me this way.” Then you have two choices—you can leave the area or you can continue what you are doing while politely ignoring them. Their anger is their choice. Give them space but don’t fall into the trap of arguing back with them. Wait until they are calm to discuss the issue with them (that may mean waiting until tomorrow to discuss it).
Dealing with a senior meltdown is challenging to say the least. We must all find our own ways to navigate them. But the most important thing to remember is to try to find a way for you to remain calm and to find an appropriate outlet for your own frustration (calling a friend to vent, a brisk walk, vigorous activity to help get your mind off the situation). Remember that in most cases senior tantrums are just temporary frustration with their situations and have very little to do with you personally (despite what they may sometimes say).