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Mood Swings

Living With Alzheimer's >> What They're Feeling | 04.24.15

Mood swings: dealing with sudden emotional changes

Sudden mood swings are a common symptom of dementia-related conditions. Without warning, a loved one may have a mysterious tantrum, and then just as suddenly, return to a place of calm or happiness. These outbursts are stressful for caregivers because the cause is often unknown to them — or there seems to be no cause at all.

Why is this happening?

Inside the mind of the person with dementia, their world is shrinking, along with their independence. When they find themselves unable to perform previously simple, routine tasks, they sometimes react with frustration and anger.

Later, during advanced stages of the disease, impairments in the ability to communicate can make their feelings and needs difficult to express, which leads to further frustration. As the ability to assess their surroundings degrades, they may respond with anger or alarm to sudden sounds, visual images from a nearby TV, unfamiliar people in the room, or any environment that stimulates them in a way that they do not understand.

Two distinctive types of mood swings

In cases of vascular dementia, the following types of definitive mood swings may occur:

  • Affective lability: Also known as labile mood. With this condition, rapid changes in emotion occur without any apparent cause or stimulus. For example, a person may begin weeping and then suddenly start smiling.
  • Affective incontinence: In these cases, a person’s emotional state has no connection to the outward expression of their mood. For example, they may have an episode of uncontrollable laughter when they are clearly angry. They also may unexpectedly go on an extended laughing or crying episode without the ability to stop.

How should you respond?

In the face of mood swings, he is patient and supportive as possible. Reassure the person that you’re there for them and will try to address the source of their anger or frustration.

Although they may be subtle and hard to determine, there are trigger factors that could be behind some mood swing episodes. Try to make sure the room temperature is not too hot or too cold, and eliminate any glaring or flickering light. Be on the lookout for signs of hunger or thirst in the person. Also be alert for medical reasons that could be to blame for pain and discomfort, such as incontinence, urinary tract infection or other conditions that might be causing distress.

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