Dementia: Coping With Agitation and Anxiety

Stephanie Specht's picture
By Stephanie Specht on March 15, 2018

Sadly as dementia progresses, people with the disease experience a profound loss of their ability to negotiate new information and stimulus.
This loss can often result in agitation and anxiety issues that can be frustrating for both patients and caregivers. 
Anxiety and agitation may be caused by a variety of triggers or could occur when a loved one is just having a "bad" day.  
The behaviors can be verbal or physical, and they can occur suddenly, with no apparent reason, or result from a frustrating situation.  
Lisa Hebert-Meritt, C.O.T.A./L., C.D.P., C.A.D.D.C.T., of Carilion Clinic Home Care and program lead for Carilion’s Alzheimer's Disease and Dementia Management Home Care Program shares the following advice for helping your loved one deal with agitation and anxiety issues: 

  • Always have a calm approach toward your loved one  
  • Create a calm environment surrounding your loved one and remove any stressors, including background noises and distractions  
  • Make sure all of your loved one’s basic needs are met and that he is comfortable (i.e, is he too cold or too hot?)  
  • Simplify your loved one's routine and daily tasks  
  • Get your loved one out for some exercise daily 
  • Limit caffeine  
  • Play music or offer other soothing activity (i.e., rubbing lotion on your loved one’s hands or feet)  
  • Be sensitive to your loved one’s fears, misperceptions or frustrations 
  • Provide reassurance and validate your loved one’s feelings  
  • Listen carefully to your loved one and do not raise your voice, chastise, ignore or argue 
  • Involve your loved one in an activity to help direct their attention away from their own anger or anxiety  
  • Check for pain and if the behaviors continue, see your doctor to rule out physical causes or medication issues 

If your loved one is dealing with agitation and anxiety issues, talk to your health care provider today to learn more tactics that might help you.

In addition, if you find that detecting and soothing your loved one’s agitation is becoming increasingly difficult, Carilion Clinic is currently conducting a research study that may help.

BESI, which stands for Behavioral and Environmental Sensing and Intervention, is a collaborative effort between clinicians at Carilion Clinic, electrical engineers at University of Virginia and systems engineers at North Carolina A&T.

The study uses wrist-worn sensors to predict what upsets a person with dementia. The hope is that the sensors can detect agitation in the stages before it becomes so severe that no one can effectively intervene.

Volunteers are currently being recruited throughout southwest Virginia.

If you are caring for someone at home who has Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias and are interested in participating, please call Temple Newbold, M.S.N., R.N., research nurse coordinator for Carilion Clinic Center for Healthy Aging, at 540-266-6077 to see if you qualify for the research study.
Learn more about the common dementia behavior triggers and how to communicate effectively with a person with a dementia related disorder.