What can I do to help my dad keep from becoming suddenly agitated?

A fellow caregiver asked...

Hi, I am having a problem with my 96 year old Dad. Lately he has periods where he becomes very agitated and I worry that he is losing his mind, like he says he is. Everything could be fine and then all of a sudden he starts acting crazy. For instance, he was going through some old papers and trying to sort them out with my help and then all of a sudden he started to get very agitated and confused and started crying and yelling that he is losing him mind. Then he yells at me to leave him alone and when I return a little later he is OK again. These episodes really scare me because I'm not sure if he could really lose his mind and I don't know what to do. I don't have anyone to talk to about this. I have a sibling who doesn't want to be involved in any of this and when I try to discuss it I usually get cut off. I don't think I can talk to his doctors because lately he is not on the best of terms with them. My father seems angry and unhappy most of the time probably because he is lonely and frustrated that he can't do the things he used to and the only one he sees regularly is me. My mom passed away almost 9 years ago and since we live in the same house (he has his own apartment) I am the only person he sees very day. My husband is also not well and is not the type of person I can discuss this with and besides that they don't get along very well. I am afraid the day will come when my dad's mind really will snap and I don't know what to do. After these epsiodes, everything is fine again but is is becoming very stressful to me and I just hope I don't have a breakdown. I'm sorry if I have been rambling on too long but if anyone can offer any suggestions I would really appreciate it.

Expert Answer

Joanne Koenig Coste is a nationally recognized expert on Alzheimer's care and an outspoken advocate for patient and family care. She is the author of Learning to Speak Alzheimer's. Also, she currently is in private practice as an Alzheimer's family therapist. Ms. Koenig Coste also serves as President of Alzheimer Consulting Associates, implementing state-of-the-art Alzheimer care throughout the United States.

It sounds like a very strenuous situation and must be as frustrating for you as it is for your dad. You mention that your father "seems angry and frustrated most of the time because he can't do the things he used to do". I think you are totally correct in that assumption. My concern is that you may just burn out before any threat of dad losing his mind becomes reality.
You must find ways to take care of you and the first would be to get some help in the daily care of your parent. Do check with your local Council on Aging and chat with a representative about possible homecare options including a companion and respite care. Perhaps there are programs at your Senior Center that may be of interest to him and provide the companionship of peers that a daughter simply can't. This is an ideal situation because it gives you some time to yourself away from the threat of his sudden agitation which, I suspect, is not something he is able to control.
It is extremely disheartening for an elderly man to have diminished vision, hearing, and cognitive functioning and most likely his memory is also not as keen as it used to be. The realization of these combined losses can cause great anguish resulting in sudden agitation. I suggest you talk to his physician regardless of his relationship with your dad - send him a note or an email to underscore your dad's level of agitation. This is a 'need to know' situation where the doctor may have some recommendations to make life more gentle for both of you.
Parents are usually reluctant to have their children interfere with their routines but perhaps you could take over the bill-paying for him to alleviate some of his anxiety. Do try to remember that it is the aging process that causes him to act out and not you! Please take care of you!