It is common for persons with dementia to be anxious or agitated. It does occur as the disease advances. Agitation covers a range of behaviors, like irritability, sleeplessness, and verbal or physical aggression. Such behaviors may be due to varied factors. Medical condition, medication, fatigue, fear, and some environmental circumstances can trigger or worsen their ability to think. Also, the person also experiences a profound loss of his ability to process stimulus and new information. He feels that his sense of control is being taken away from him.
It is when he is most agitated that you, as his caregiver, should exercise your utmost patience. Don’t take his offensive behaviors personally. Stay calm and apply these tips to ease the person’s anxiety.
Set a calm environment. Remove the stimulants. As much as possible, minimize the noise, glare, background distractions, and clutter in his room. Limit the number of persons coming and going around him. Also, reduce the person’s caffeine intake. When applicable, you may even try some soothing rituals with the patient.
Simplify tasks and routines. Make the person’s daily tasks as simple as possible. Use low lighting or put on night lights to ease his anxiety. Do not rearrange the furniture and other household objects around him. Otherwise, he would get more confused. It also helps if you put familiar objects and photographs within his sight. These items may provide him a sense of security and bring in pleasant memories.
Check for physical stimuli. Perhaps, he is hungry, thirsty, or needs to use the bathroom. He may also be feeling cold, or the environment he is in is too warm. Make sure that his room is at a comfortable temperature. Pain, fatigue or skin irritation may also make him anxious.
Make exercise a daily routine. Exercise helps reduce stress and anxiety. Encourage the person to go for a walk or help you in some gardening chores. If he loves dancing, you may play his favorite music and dance with him.
Engage the person in activities. Introduce him to some simple activities to divert his focus from the anxiety. Let him do things by himself. Support his independence and ability to care for himself. But, even as he does things by himself, make sure you keep an eye on him. Keep dangerous objects out of his reach.
Provide reassurance. When he is agitated, back off a bit and ask permission to talk with him. Do not raise your voice. Instead, use calming and reassuring words, such as, “I’m sorry you are upset.” or “May I help you?”. Acknowledge his anger and let him know you understand his situation. Give him a gentle touch as you speak in a reassuring voice. If it helps, let the person listen to soothing music, or invite him to go for a walk or a car ride with you.
Do not ignore, restrain, criticize, or argue with the agitated person. These reactions from you can only worsen his anxiety.
If you cannot stop the agitation on your own despite the interventions you employed, see the person’s physician. He might be reacting to medication-related side effects or any physical triggers, especially when the symptoms occur suddenly. In which case, he must undergo a thorough medical check up. Symptoms can be minimized with proper treatment and intervention.