Dealing with Anxiety and Agitation in Alzheimer's

Agitation in alzheimer

Those who have been caregivers for a while know how that one of the repercussions of Alzheimer's is anxiety or agitation.  New caregivers though, are not that familiarized with the situation and when they suddenly have to deal with it, they do not know what to do or how to react.  As caregivers, and through the changes our loved ones go through, we learn every day. Dealing with our loved one's anxiety can be very difficult but it is also manageable.  Here are some things all caregivers should keep in mind about this particular subject.

First, learn to understand what causes the agitation.  It can be triggered by the environment surrounding the person, medication interaction, or even a medical condition other than Alzheimer itself.  The person may be feeling sick or unstable and may not have the ability to inform the caregiver, resulting in an anxiety breakdown. Remember also that the fact alone of losing the ability to reason, negotiate, and process information is a reason strong enough to agitate anyone.

Other situations that may trigger anxiety are:

  • Moving from one home to another (residence or nursing home)
  • Certain visits from people, having to visit the doctor or being hospitalized, travelling.
  • Caregiver changes or caregiving schedule changes done suddenly
  • Misunderstood dialogue for threats
  • Fatigue
  • Fear of the confusion they constantly live in.

What to do when agitation hits (or even before):

  • Practice PEACE and CALMNESS.  Identify the stressing factors.  Provide the person a quiet and safe place to live in.  Make sure live in a home where they have privacy and where they can rest.  Limit caffeine intake.  Include meditation music and other soothing routines.
  • Pay attention to triggers in the environment such as the television. They can enhance noise, glares, distraction and promote anxiety.
  • As a caregiver you have the responsibility to check if your loved one is in pain, hungry, thirsty, tired, sick or is experiencing conditions like skin rashes or constipation. The temperature of the room should be a comfortable one.
  • Try as much as possible to make tasks and routines simple
  • Make sure there is time for exercise.  Dancing and walking can be very effective to prevent or reduce anxiety.

Other ways to respond:

  • Step away so your loved one sees you do not represent a threat
  • Ask for permission to help them in any way
  • Talk calmly and positively
  • Reassure them that you are there to help and that it is ok to feel the way they are feeling
  • Slow down, rapid movements may stress them more.
  • Focus on events you know the person finds pleasure in.
  • Limit stimulation

Things you can say to your loved one:

  • Will you let me help you?
  • Can you help me?
  • I'm here for you.
  • I'm sorry
  • I will be here with you until you feel better.
  • It's ok, everything is in control
  • You are safe here, do not be scared.

Last but not least, do not forget to:

  • Listen to your loved one when they are expressing their frustration. Understand what triggered the anxiety.
  • Give them reassurance with positive things you can say.
  • Get involved in activities such as art, music and social groups.
  • Bring down noise and take away distractions.
  • Stay in one place! Do not move unless it is totally and extremely necessary.
  • NEVER raise your voice
  • NEVER argue with the person or criticize them in any way.
  • NEVER restrain them.
  • Visit the doctor to make sure the anxiety is not happening due to any physical triggers or medication. 

Related read: Digestive Balance in Alzheimer and Dementia