How to cope with the unpredictable side of caring


When you’re providing care for a loved one things don’t always run smoothly. One of the most difficult areas you often have to cope with is erratic or unpredictable behaviour. So, let’s explore what this is, the causes and how you can cope with the situation.

Unpredictable behaviour you may recognise

 The most common form Carers experience relates to aggressive behaviour. This can be verbal or physical and both are very distressing for everyone involved. Sometimes you will arrive at the house and immediately recognise that everything is not as it should be.

These situations can be scary depending on how long they have been in his state. Of course, there are times why you arrive and everything is fine but then things start to spiral out of control. Often you will hear upsetting statements or accusations being made to you. The physical side can more challenging if items are being thrown or property destroyed.

A loved one might be uncooperative or very hard to engage with. This can be a worry if you need to administer medication or to get them to eat and drink. You can spend quite a bit of time trying to engage and coerce them to do what’s best for them.

Some behaviours you may term as socially unacceptable. This could be anything your loved one does that makes you or anyone else feel uncomfortable. It’s not how you expect people to behave but it seems quite normal for them.

What can cause these behaviours?

Often you will find a trigger that will lead to this behaviour. Not always obvious and you tend to learn what these as you go along. It’s important to recognise them and may include:

  • A change to the normal routine – could be to their environment, medication even something as simple as a different milk carton.
  • Lack of sleep can be draining for everyone – it can make you less rational and prone to living on your emotions.
  • A new or excessive amount of noise can be unsettling for most of us and if you’re not feeling 100% it can be a source of distress.
  • Feeling discomfort or pain is often very draining, particularly if it continues for some time.
  • Not being able to communicate effectively can be frustrating which can lead to unpredictable behaviour.

Once you understand the triggers your loved one is susceptible to you will be in a better position to manage them. Something worth bearing in mind because they can also change over time. But as their Carer, you will be the best person to recognise these situations.

Living with your loved one’s condition

There are various reasons why your loved one requires care. If you know and accept the reasons it will help you in dealing with these situations. You’ll understand the context and be able to manage it from their perspective.     

With the onset of dementia, there will be several stages your loved one will go through. The one thing they all have in common is loss of memory. This deteriorates as the disease progresses until eventually, they are unable to perform everyday tasks. So, remembering the conversation you had yesterday even during the same day becomes impossible.

Taking care of the elderly, disabled or those with other longer-term illnesses is slightly different. In these situations, you are more likely to be able to reason with them. Have a conversation and work out the best way forward, together.

Approaches to help you cope with behaviours

As the Carer, the first thing to do is remain level-headed. Easy to say but hard to do in practice. You can quickly be dragged down because they are being difficult and irrational. It will be important to remain calm.

You may think you know better but at that moment it won’t be something they want to hear. The best advice is to pick your moments. Sometimes saying very little or nothing is the best option. But always be listening even nodding which will help to diffuse the situation and take it down a level.

It’s always very tempting to join in an argument, particularly with your loved one. The best thing to do is to bite your tongue and save it. Remember the strains and frustrations they are feeling. Deep down they know they need you and that you’re doing the best for them. Find comfort in the fact they’d be lost without you.

Another great quality you will need in abundance is patience. When you find yourself in a difficult situation with your loved one just remember why they are acting like this. Their lives have changed and there isn’t much they can do about it. Being understanding and showing compassion is the best way to help them through.

Being a Carer is emotionally and physically draining. Make sure you look after yourself because if you don’t you can make the situation worse. Sounds harsh but it does happen. Try and build regular breaks into your caring routine. There are experienced carers you can call upon to take some of the strain off you. A lifeline when they are in place but make sure you introduce the help in the right way.

Finally, always be open to talking to others in similar positions. Sharing your experiences will help you feel less isolated and you can often pick up new ideas. Thousands of carers do what you do so why not tap into this community.


Caring is not a job many people believe they will have to do. It is upsetting to see the deterioration of a loved one. You can feel a sense of helplessness.

But you can find Agencies who work and support unpaid carers. As an award-winning caring organisation for Lincolnshire, Cambridge and Peterborough, that is exactly what Age Care Advice do. Just reach out as our clients have done…

“From a personal perspective, knowing my father is being cared for at such a top, loving level has provided me with invaluable comfort and peace of mind. Many thanks for your support, and may it last for many years to come .”


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