When it happens
Some individuals go through most of dementia with few uncharacteristic emotional outbursts. Among those who have them, they tend to increase over time.
Why it happens
When outbursts happen infrequently, they're most likely to be caused by some unexpected frustration, such as trying to remember how to do something once easily mastered, especially if the person is already under some other emotional or physical stress, such as a move or an illness.
What you can do
Help the person feel secure. This is the number-one way you can ward off unpredictable emotional states.
Know that transitions of all kinds can be difficult: a new caregiving aide, a move, a change in routine, a shift from one activity to another. Provide extra time and reassurance.
Be empathetic without talking down to the person: "This is a hard day, isn't it?"
Keep to a routine schedule; predictability is very soothing.
If you sense agitation mounting, try stepping back. Count to 10 or 15 from another room or somewhere apart where you can keep an eye on things, and then try again.
Try distracting an upset person with tried-and-true favorites: a tape of preferred music, a cherished blanket or other comfort object, a sweet snack such as ice cream.