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How to Handle Elderly Temper Tantrums in a Positive Way

Elderly temper tantrums can be extremely painful and confusing for everyone in the household. You don’t understand why your aging loved one is lashing out and are unsure how to help. It might not always be obvious what triggers the temper tantrum, so the behaviors can always make you feel nervous or on edge.
Managing these outbursts calmly and positively can make everyone feel more relaxed. Handling senior temper tantrums isn’t easy, but you can use various techniques to reduce the behaviors.

Here Are Six Tips for Addressing Temper Tantrums in Older Adults


1. Identify the Cause

Understanding the cause of aggressive or hostile behaviors should be your first step in addressing them. Elderly temper tantrums rarely happen for no reason. Figuring out why this is happening can help you empathize with your aging loved one, and it may help you identify a solution.
You should start with a doctor’s appointment to rule out any medical issues. For instance, urinary tract infections can cause a severe change in mood or behavior in older adults. Chronic pain, sleep issues, poor nutrition, or other physical health factors commonly contribute to behavioral problems. Addressing the underlying cause of temper tantrums is always the best option.
Social and environmental factors can cause emotional challenges in seniors, too. For example, loneliness is a serious concern for older adults, leading to depression, anxiety, anger, and agitation. Your aging loved one may struggle if they live with someone who makes them feel stressed or uncomfortable.
Dementia is another common cause of elderly temper tantrums. The changes in the brain lead to dramatic shifts in mood, behavior, and personality. Additionally, dementia is very frightening to experience. Your loved one may feel anxious or on edge as their cognitive skills decline.

2. Set Boundaries

Setting boundaries is the best thing you can do to protect your mental health while caring for a senior with behavioral concerns. If your loved one has dementia, they may be unable to honor your boundaries. In other cases, though, boundaries are an essential and effective way to reduce the effect temper tantrums have on you.
Boundaries look different for everyone. Think about the moments that cause you the most pain or stress and what you can do to avoid those situations. If cursing upsets you, you could set a firm rule that you will not engage with your aging relative when they’re cursing. If they continually demand your attention while you’re in the middle of another task, you could step away from them until the task is completed.
The key to successfully setting boundaries is communicating and enforcing them clearly. There must be a consequence for your relative breaking your boundaries. For instance, you might remove yourself from the conversation if your family member yells or makes offensive statements. You should never punish your aging relative for behaviors outside your control. However, you should do whatever you must maintain your mental health when caring for your loved one.

3. Avoid Escalating

Engaging and escalating when your aging relative has a temper tantrum is very easy. They’re in a heightened emotional state, making them feel stressed or anxious. Feeding off of their energy and responding with anger or aggression will only make the tantrum worse. As difficult as it can be, you should try not to escalate in these situations.
The “gray rock” technique can be helpful in heightened moments. This strategy involves becoming as unresponsive and unemotional as possible. The goal is to be as emotionless as a gray rock. This stops you from feeding into your relative’s aggressive behavior so it can be highly effective for de-escalating.
You can also physically walk away from situations that are affecting your emotions. Taking a short break can do wonders for your mental health. If you need a prolonged break, ask other family members or friends for support. A few days of respite can help you clear your mind and return to a grounded, balanced state.

4. Redirect Them

Redirection can be a powerful strategy for managing temper tantrums or aggression in older adults. Try to steer your loved one’s attention elsewhere to distract them from their agitation. This won’t work for all seniors in all situations, but it can immediately de-escalate the situation in some cases.
Reminiscing is often an effective way to redirect a senior during an emotional outburst. Many older adults love reflecting and telling stories about their lives. You could show them old pictures or play their favorite music or movie. Another great way to redirect is to ask them to help you with a task. This gives them something active to focus on, which can be a good distraction.

5. Express How You Feel

You’re always allowed to express when you feel hurt by your loved one’s actions. However, the way you express this can have a big impact on your relationship with your senior relative. Focus on how you feel and what you need from your family member.
Using “I” statements instead of “you” statements helps the conversation feel less combative. Your loved one is likelier to listen and empathize with you if they don’t feel you’re accusing them of something. For instance, you could say, “I feel stressed when I hear yelling in the house.” With this statement, you’re clearly expressing how you feel, but you’re not trying to start an argument about your relative’s behavior.

6. Consult With a Senior Counselor

Counseling for seniors is a powerful option for managing emotional outbursts. Temper tantrums in older adults rarely happen because they’re trying to hurt you or make your life difficult. Almost always, underlying mental or emotional challenges contribute to the behavior.
Counseling is an opportunity to get to the root of these issues. Your loved one might not even know why they feel so upset, but their counselor can help them better understand themselves. Therapy can also equip them with emotional regulation skills that can help them reduce or prevent outbursts.
Elderly temper tantrums are painful and stressful for everyone involved, but support is available. If you’re unsure how to manage your aging loved one’s behaviors, consult a mental health professional. Blue Moon Senior Counseling offers therapy for older adults with various emotional concerns. Reach out to us today to learn how counseling for seniors could help your family member.

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