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Tough Conversations: What to Do When Your Senior Loved One Becomes Combative


It can be both stressful and scary when an older adult gets angry, frustrated, or combative, especially when it appears to come out of nowhere and with no warning. As a caregiver, it’s important for you to understand how to deal with aggressiveness and how to calm your loved one down effectively. Ebenezer Senior Living has provided a list of ways to respond to your loved one.

Remain Calm

It’s easy to become frustrated or even angry with your loved one when they lash out at you, yell hurtful things, or become aggressive. However, returning their rage with accusations will only make both of you angrier. Instead, keep your body language welcoming and your voice low. Try taking a few deep breaths or closing your eyes to ground and center yourself before engaging.

Listen to Them

Even if what your loved one is saying doesn’t seem to make any sense, listen to them. Let them know you understand and sympathize with them. Remain engaged, nod, and acknowledge their thoughts. Continue to take their feelings into consideration in the future. By knowing what triggers these anger fits, you can try to avoid them.

Ask Them What They Want

Without using an infantilizing or condescending tone, ask your loved one if there’s anything they’d like or anything you can do for them to help them feel better. Offer them a favorite food, mention a favorite activity, or just leave the floor open for them to decide. Try not to push your own choices onto them. If your loved one feels that you’re making decisions for them, it could make the issue worse.

Make Sure There Isn’t a Deeper Issue

Your loved one could simply be in a bad mood, but it’s also possible they’re experiencing discomfort from a medical issue. Check to make sure they’ve taken any usual medications or that they haven’t eaten something that disagrees with them. If your loved one is becoming combative on a regular basis, you might want to arrange a doctor’s appointment.

It can be stressful and even frightening when your senior loved one becomes aggressive, but you’ll both have a better experience if you’re prepared to handle the situation. For more advice on dealing with tough situations, visit Ebenezer’s blog.

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Ebenezer is Minnesota’s largest senior living operator with over 100 years of experience serving older adults. As part of Fairview Health Services, Ebenezer is dedicated to healing, discovering and educating for longer, healthier and meaningful lives. ​

Discrimination is Against the Law. We comply with applicable Federal civil rights laws. We do not discriminate against, exclude or treat people differently because of race, color, national origin, age, disability, sex or sexual orientation.

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