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Why do Alzheimer's patients cry a lot?

Alzheimer’s patients may cry a lot because of a variety of reasons, including: (1) physical pain, (2) feeling grief, sadness, or loss, (3) feeling overwhelmed or frustrated, (4) depression, and (5) fear and anxiety. Some triggers can cause crying, too.

Crying. Something that we do since we are born.

You may have witnessed your beloved person become tearful and have a crying episode.

Something that can be very distressing for both of you.

However, Alzheimer’s disease can cause intense emotional outbursts.

In this article, some light will be shed on why Alzheimer’s patients may cry and what a caregiver can do about it.

Table of Content
What triggers can make someone with Alzheimer's cry?
What to do if someone with Alzheimer’s cries a lot?
A word from the author
List of Resources
About the Author

What triggers can make someone with Alzheimer's cry?

Various triggers can cause an Alzheimer’s patient to have a crying episode. Common triggers can include old memories that suddenly come back, not knowing a name of a beloved one, remembering that a loved one passed, or pain that arises from other medical conditions.

The story of 82 years old Emma shows how a memory suddenly comes back and causes a crying episode.

The story of Emma:

There she is sitting in the living room. Having a lovely conversation with her beloved brother William. They talk about current events, the news, and the weather.

Then, Emma asks how Olivia, who is William’s wife, is doing in her new job.

She even complains that Olivia rarely visits anymore. But, her question is met with a weird facial expression.

Just a few minutes later he stands up saying “Goodbye Aunt Emma”. Now she remembers.

It is not William.

Her brother and his wife died years ago.

The person standing in front of her is his grandson. She starts staring at her hands.

She realizes that she is in her 80’s.

Not anymore living at home but in a nursing home. So it overcomes her. All the emotions and all the pain.

She cries.

Alzheimer’s patients struggle with their memory. Some of it is damaged.

However, realizing that a beloved person passed years ago is terrifying.

Simply a terrifying and terrible disease. There are lots of tears all around.

Knowing the triggers can help to avoid a possible emotional outburst.

A list of triggers that can cause an Alzheimer’s patient to cry
5 Triggers
1. Physical pain: Make an appointment with the general practitioner to find the source of pain. There are non-drug interventions as well as medications that could help.
2. Feeling grief, sadness, or loss: Like in the upper story, realizing a beloved person passed years ago can be terrifying.
3. Feeling overwhelmed or frustrated: Daily activities that need assistance can cause a patient to cry out of nowhere. Any situation that causes frustration can cause a crying episode. Being dependent on assistance for eating, drinking, or going to the toilet is frustrating.
4. Depression: Alzheimer’s can come with comorbid depression. Left untreated it can be the main source of frequent crying.
5. Fear and anxiety: Remembering that Alzheimer’s is a fatal disease can trigger fear, anxiety, and hopelessness. Processing such emotions daily results often in an episode of crying.

Of course, there are many more triggers.

Just to mention a few more: being in a room with strangers, wanting to go home, reminiscing, feeling not safe or taken care of, facing that one’s own life comes to an end, a smell that triggers a memory, seeing something dying (e.g. flower).

What to do if someone with Alzheimer’s cries a lot?

Several things can be tried, including (1) visiting a psychotherapist for depression assessment, (2) gentle and reassuring touch (3) comforting words, (4) playing their favorite music, (5) visiting a general practitioner to assess pain, (6) asking a pharmacist to review medication, and (7) involving the patient in meaningful activities.

Besides, there are other things you can do, too.

For example, you could consider the following interventions:

What to do if someone with Alzheimer’s cries a lot?
8 Examples
Make yourself aware of what is happening. Try to collect everything that you can observe when it happens. Write it down in a notebook. At what time of the day is it happening? Is it happening when you are not in the room? What did the person do before it happened? How long did the person cry?
Visit a psychotherapist. Assess your beloved one for anxiety or depression. Crying can be a symptom of both. The therapist can help with professional advice and interventions, too. Almost half of Alzheimer’s patients have comorbid depression.
Gentle and reassuring touch. In some cases, just holding the hand of your beloved one can make a difference. It’s a way to show that you are present. This way your beloved person can realize that he is not alone. A hug can have a similar effect. Most importantly, do not leave the room. Be present and keep them company.
Comforting words. The way you communicate in such a situation can be critical. Try to be as comforting with your voice as possible. Be empathetic. Finding the right words can be difficult, this is why I created a separate article called “How to talk to someone with Alzheimer’s”. There you will learn communication techniques that can help in most common scenarios.
Playing their favorite music. Just try it out. If possible don’t leave the room. You probably have a smartphone, which can play their favorite song, too. Music creates an atmosphere of comfort. It helps to distract them from their thoughts and emotions.
Visiting a general practitioner to assess pain. Many Alzheimer’s patients suffer from additional chronic pain. The right medication can help release the pain. However, make sure that the side-effect is under control.
Asking a pharmacist to review medication. Reading and understanding side-effects can be an overwhelming task. Try to ask a pharmacist for a minute of their time. They are capable to understand and scan for possible side effects. Besides, it is part of their job description to know answers to such types of questions.
Involving the patient in meaningful activities. Take the patient for a walk. Fresh air and moving around can already be very meaningful to them. Others benefit from a dog that comes for a special visit, from time to time. Reminiscence can be a valuable activity, too. However, it might provoke a crying episode. So be aware.

A word from the author

Don’t give up. 24/7 care of a beloved person with Alzheimer’s is demanding. Facing crying episodes and wondering what went wrong can be a challenging puzzle to solve.

However, I certainly do not have the answer to solve it completely.

But, as caregivers as well as family members, we should try to solve it.

It is worth the time.

Especially, for the patient’s quality of life.

List of Resources

Patric Pförtner

B. Sc. Psychology

Hi, my name is Patric Pfoertner and I graduated 2020 from the NBU. Currently, I work and study in Germany. My specialisations are Cognitive Psychology paired with a good slack of Clinical Psychology. Just this year I started publishing my research in the CBB Journal. Feel free to read about it at ResearchGate. Otherwise, click the other button to read my full CV.

About Author ResearchGate

P.S.: I am available for psychological consultation, too.