Alzheimer’s and Dementia: How to Prevent Agitation

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Agitation is a very common symptom in people with Alzheimer’s or dementia, due to the significant loss in the ability to process new information. For a person with dementia, a new piece of information or another stimulus that might seem simple to process for someone who doesn’t suffer from cognitive impairment can be extremely overwhelming and create an agitated state. To make things worse, often people with dementia can no longer distract themselves with focused activity requiring cognition, such as reading.

The result is restless behavior—pacing around or wandering off, or constantly rummaging around or looking for items that they think are lost—which is exhausting not only for them, but for their caregivers, too. These behaviors can be exacerbated by noise or activities around them, or from stressful changes, such as moving to a new nursing home, or a new caregiver. They can also be the result of being generally fearful or fatigued from constantly trying to understand the world around them.

How can agitation be prevented?

Determining what is causing your loved one’s agitation can be the quickest way to stop their restless behavior.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, strategies to help prevent agitation include:

  • Create a calm environment.
  • Remove stressors by moving the person to a safer, quieter place, or offering a security object, rest, or privacy.
  • Avoid environmental triggers, such as noise, glare and background distraction (such as having the television on).
  • Monitor personal comfort.
  • Check for pain, hunger, thirst, constipation, full bladder, fatigue, infections and skin irritation. Make sure the room is at a comfortable temperature. Be sensitive to fears, misperceived threats and frustration with expressing needs or desires.
  • Simplify tasks and routines.
  • Provide an opportunity for exercise.
  • Distract them with activities: go for a walk, garden together, or put on music and dance.
  • If non-drug approaches to decreasing agitation aren’t working, there are medications that your loved one can be prescribed to help. According to WebMD, neuroleptics or antipsychotics (medicines that treat paranoia or confusion), antidepressants, and anti-anxiety pills are common medications to reduce agitation. Caregivers should consult their loved one’s primary care doctor or neurologist to determine the best treatment and course of action.

What can be done to decrease agitation when it occurs

Despite implementing strategies to prevent agitation for your loved one, sometimes the behavior still occurs. When that happens, try to reassure the person through calm, simple guiding questions. Focus on pleasant activities and slow things down, and try to limit the stimulation in the room. Avoid raising your voice, showing alarm or offense, making quick movements that might alarm the person, ignoring or criticizing the person, or shaming and cornering them. Ask him or her things like, “May I help you?” or say “You are safe here.”

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