It’s common for a person with Alzheimer’s disease to become restless, agitated, or anxious, causing them to become upset in certain places or environments.  Situations that may lead to agitation include moving to a new residence or nursing home, changes in environment, such as travel, hospitalization or the presence of houseguests, changes in caregiver arrangements, misperceived threats, or fear and fatigue resulting from trying to make sense out of a confusing world.

When anxiety and agitation arise, it is important to have tools to reduce restlessness and instill calm.  Here are some tips for how to reduce anxiety in Alzheimer’s patients:

  1. Create a calm environment.  Remove anything from the environment that is causing them stress or irritation.  Try offering a security object, or giving the person space and alone time.  Develop soothing rituals to use in times like this and reduce caffeine intake to decrease anxiety.  Sometimes using lavender oils or lotions produces calm feelings.
  2. Avoid environmental triggers.  Pay attention to noises and background distractions (like the television or loud music).  Remove any triggers that seem to irritate the person, or make them feel overwhelmed. Remove anything that smells bad, as some people are sensitive to smell and without knowing what is causing them the stress, become very agitated by the presence of bad smells.  
  3. Ensure personal comfort.  Make sure your loved one is not hungry, thirsty, in need of using the bathroom, etc.  Check that their medications aren’t producing strange symptoms such as itchy skin or other discomfort.  Check the temperature of the room – is it comfortable?  Be sensitive to fears or misperceived threats, as they feel very real to the person experiencing them.  
  4. Make sure that all tasks and routines are simple and easy to follow.  Daily routines can be very comforting for Alzheimer’s patients, but they must be simple, or they will become unnecessarily stressful for those experiencing memory loss.  
  5. Always make time for exercise.  Go on a walk together or practice yoga together.  Take time to garden, or turn on their favorite music and dance with them.  

Your response to these agitations and anxieties is very important.  The threats and fears that Alzheimer’s patients perceive are usually misguided, but it’s important to sit with them and listen to those fears and offer validation.  Find out what they are afraid of and why.  Commiserate with them that it must be hard to be afraid of that situation or person.  Use calming phrases such as, “You’re safe here;” or “I will stay with you as long as you need.”  Find activities to divert the attention from the anxiety.  Some good options are art, music, knitting, going on a walk, or looking through old pictures.  Make sure not to show alarm, raise your voice, or do anything else that may exacerbate the Alzheimer’s patients’ fears.  Check with the doctor to make sure any new medications aren’t increasing anxiety or agitation.  It’s helpful to talk with others who are walking through the same thing as you are.  Joining an Alzheimer’s support group can be life-giving and helpful when you run out of ideas.  Being with other people who also have a loved one with dementia or Alzheimer’s decreases feelings of loneliness and hopelessness, and improves the caregiver’s quality of life.  

Alzheimer’s disease does not just mean the absence of memory.  It often means fear, restlessness, and irritation that the person experiencing does not understand.  That’s why having coping mechanisms for them and for yourself, as the caregiver, is so vital.  Make sure to put these tips into practice as often as possible.