Statistically speaking, dementia risk is something that everyone should consider when a loved one is getting older. For adults over the age of 71, the amount of incidence is roughly 13.9%, rising to 37.4% for people above 90. One of the most common side effects of dementia in older patients is agitation. In some cases, this can be represented by just simple restlessness, in others, it can progress to combativeness that may make caring for them difficult. Here are some key points where it comes to understanding and mitigating this condition.
The Facts Behind Dementia Patients and Agitation
Part of what can make dementia-related agitation difficult to work through is the fact that it is rooted in a variety of potential causes. The reason why it’s so deeply tied to dementia is the fact that the disease robs people of their ability to properly process new stimuli and information, so something that a person would normally be able to work through becomes agitating. Some sources of agitation include the following:
- Moving to a new residence
- Changes in caregivers
- Something perceived as a threat
- Need for exercise
- Medication interactions
As you can see, these issues can range from occasional to daily problems. The first step you should always take when a dementia patient is experiencing agitation is to make sure you bring them in for a medical checkup. In some cases, they may be feeling discomfort or other problems due to a medical issue. Since a dementia patient may not be able to communicate this effectively, it’s important to eliminate medical problems as a cause before working to treat the agitation.
Creating A Safe and Relaxing Setting
So, with this in mind, let’s say that you do have a person you are caring for/loved one with dementia experiencing agitation. You get a medical checkup and determine there’s no health-related cause. What steps do you take next?
The single most important thing you need to understand is that even if they are losing a lot of their facilities, a person with dementia is still an individual person. They have their own set of fears and concerns that may set off an agitation episode, so you need to employ a personalized approach. A good way to do this, especially if you suspect it’s due to an environmental change, is to try and make this new environment as relaxing and familiar as possible.
Finding activities for seniors with dementia is also important. In many cases, restlessness is a root cause behind the agitation. Craft activities, some form of exercise/walking, or even approaches like pet therapy or music therapy can be helpful. If you employ caregivers to help with your loved one that has dementia, it may be a good idea to see if they have gone through training to help handle episodes of agitation. There is a way to approach an agitated person in order to help them feel more at ease. Generally, the steps you want to take in the moment include:
- Trying to determine the source of frustration, if they are able to communicate.
- Using calming phrases to make the person feel safer, and reiterate that you will be present.
- Make sure you’re not doing things like raising your voice or making sudden movements that may alarm them.
- Use physical contact appropriately. Research has shown that physical contact can help ease the symptoms of dementia.
There’s likely going to be a bit of trial and error when it comes to finding the best approach, but you can always use your past experience with the individual, including before they showed dementia symptoms.
We should also close the conversation by addressing drugs as a form of treatment. In extreme cases, some have tried to use antipsychotics to help lower the incidence of agitation, especially of the symptoms make the patient a threat to themselves and others. However, studies have shown that only a small selection of the drugs used have a marked effect on lowering agitation. Compounding the issue is the fact that introducing a drug may mean a variety of medication interactions that you need to account for. While scientists acknowledge drugs as an option, they should always be a last resort after personalized care changes fail.
By Casey Ribick
Casey Ribick is a writer for Senior Care Center and manages an assisted living facility in Southern California. Originally from Romania, he has a passion for outdoors and travel. He writes about the health, senior care, and financial planning and enjoys connecting with audiences with his writing.