No! Most often, it’s caused by communication failures.
Agitation — sometimes even anger — is often only a symptom of an underlying problem being experienced by someone with dementia and the failure by a caregiver to recognize that problem. While the symptom can be treated successfully with antipsychotic drugs, those drugs can also create zombie-like patients, completely robbing them of any quality of life.
Unfortunately, antipsychotics are still commonly used in facilities for the elderly to make residents more “manageable.” Really? Why? For the facilities’ convenience — it’s easier, quicker and much less expensive than the alternative. And, what’s that? Find out what the underlying cause may be and fix that.
What are the most common underlying causes of agitation?
Imagine for a moment how you would feel if you couldn’t communicate with other people. You knew what you wanted to say, but the words wouldn’t come out. And, you couldn’t move your hands to write down what you wanted to say.
How would you feel if you were trapped inside your mind. A little frustrated? A lot frustrated? Angry that other people don’t try a little harder to understand what you needed? Even to have the motions you make to try to communicate misinterpreted as agitation? Just how angry, frustrated and agitated would you be?
Unless you’ve been trapped inside your mind and couldn’t communicate, it is impossible for you to know … regardless of how sympathetic and well-intentioned you may be.
I can! I’ve been there, even if only for a few hours before I passed out for 3 days. (For more about my story, read “Aphasia – I Know the Words I Want to Say … But …“)
Now, instead of being lucky like me, imagine that your condition is permanent … and you know that something is wrong and you can’t fix it by yourself!
For example, here are just a few common situations …
- You can’t speak.
- You can’t understand what people are saying. They either talk too fast or in a foreign language.
- You can’t write.
- You have had a bad headache for three days, but no one will give you some tylenol.
- You would love some ice cream to soothe your sore throat, but no one will give you any.
- You have an terrible earache but no one will help – no one understands.
- You need to blow your nose but no one will give you a tissue.
- You lost your glasses, but no one will help you find them.
- You are thirsty but no one will give you anything to drink.
- You are hungry but no one will give you food.
- You have a terrible leg cramp but no one will massage it out.
- You peed yourself, but no one will help you clean up.
- You need to poop but no one will take you to the toilet.
- Your jaw has ached for days, but one will give you any pain medication.
- You are having trouble breathing, but no one will help.
- You have a great deal of pain in your side, but no one will help.
- You have a bad burning sensation when you pee, but no one will help.
- Your stomach feels like it’s on fire, but no one will help.
- You are constipated, but no one will give you a laxative.
How could anyone know. You can’t even make gestures that anyone understands. It’s no wonder that you’re angry and agitated.
Quite often, the solution to working with someone with anger issues is a technique called mindfulness. In the beginning, mindfulness will seem to take a little more time. But, it actually saves time the longer you use it because it avoids the anger and agitation issues. Read more about it in our article, “How to Communicate Effectively with Your Elderly Parent.”