Agitation in Dementia: How to Prevent and Manage Symptoms


Agitation is a mental state in which a person experiences inner tension, restlessness, and nervousness. It’s a form of uneasiness that’s commonly seen in dementia patients. It can be caused by dementia-related brain changes or antipsychotic medications.

Continue reading to learn how to quickly identify symptoms and causes of agitation in dementia patients. Plus, get tips for managing and preventing restlessness and agitation.

Symptoms of agitation in dementia patients

In people with dementia, fidgeting, pacing, and making repetitive movements are common signs of anxiety and agitation. Other symptoms may include:

  • Irritability
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Repetitive speech
  • Fixation on certain tasks

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Causes of agitation in dementia patients

Your loved one could be agitated due to a combination of reasons, some of which may include:

  • Pain. Your loved one may feel restless if they can’t fully express their pain or discomfort. For example, they may be constipated, experiencing body aches, or feeling ill, but they may not be able to communicate it properly.
  • Depression. As your loved one’s cognition declines, they may feel unknowingly sad or increasingly lonely. Being unable to express their sadness may present as agitation instead.
  • Loss of control. Losing the ability to perform old, familiar tasks or feeling a lack of control can be stressful and lead to anxiety and restlessness.
  • Lack of sleep. Dementia-related brain changes may affect the sleep-wake cycle, causing sleep disturbances. And, as seen in most people, exhaustion can lead to moodiness or agitation.
  • Sudden changes. A move, a change in caregiver, or the loss of a loved one can cause unexpected stress, resulting in irritability or agitation.
  • Excessive noise or too many people in a room. Loud sounds and larger crowds can cause uneasiness or overstimulation and may result in emotional outbursts.
  • Drug interactions and side effects. Medications may have negative side effects or interactions that could result in agitation in dementia patients. Be sure to talk to their doctor and pharmacist about these symptoms.

How to calm a dementia patient: Tips for managing agitation

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to calming a person with dementia, so it’s important to have multiple strategies at your disposal. You may help ease your loved one’s agitation with the following tips:

  • Speak calmly and be patient. Be compassionate and listen to their fears, concerns, or frustrations. Practice kindness, using a sincere tone, and gentle gestures.
  • Try recreational therapy. Depending on your loved one’s interests, you can try art therapy, music therapy, pet therapy, or other variations to soothe their nerves.
  • Reduce excessive noise. Avoid using loud appliances, such as the dryer, dishwasher, or vacuum cleaner, while your loved one is in the room. Try soundproofing to minimize street noises, or get a white noise machine to drown out external noises.
  • Redirect their attention. Serve their favorite snack, play soothing music, watch a show, or engage in calming activities when you start to see signs of dementia fidgeting or restlessness.
  • Limit their caffeine intake. Caffeine may increase anxiety and agitation, so try looking for caffeine-free versions of your loved one’s favorite beverages.

If nothing seems to work at home, talk to a doctor about other options. They may suggest professional therapy programs or lifestyle changes. In some cases, medications to help control agitation may be prescribed. However, non-drug treatments are usually preferred to treat dementia agitation because of their effectiveness in targeting the root causes of the disturbances.

Side effects of anti-psychotic and anti-anxiety medications are also a concern for seniors with dementia. Other strategies to treat and manage dementia behaviors are usually recommended before medication is considered, according to the National Institutes on Aging.

Read: Wandering Top Tips: How to Minimize Agitation and Restlessness

Tips for preventing agitation

Some simple routine changes can help prevent agitation. Use the following person-centered care guidelines to help prevent agitation in dementia patients.

  • Enable your loved one to feel in control. Even if they’re not able to perform tasks on their own, give them a chance to make small decisions, like what to wear, eat, or do next.
  • Maintain a routine. An unpredictable routine may cause confusion and result in agitation. Consistency is key, so work together to set times for bathing, dressing, and eating. Try to adhere to the schedule, as best as possible.
  • Build quiet times into the day. Continuously hopping from one activity to the next may be tiring and confusing for a person with dementia. Instead, try to take breaks in between to help them process thoughts and change.
  • Place well-loved objects and photographs around the house. Such objects can offer a sense of security and comfort, and they also help your loved one to reminisce.
  • Limit the number of people in a room. It can be overwhelming for someone with dementia to be around many people at once. Find a comfortable number of people they can socialize with and try not to exceed it.

To prevent agitation in dementia patients, it’s also important to take care of yourself. Your mood may also affect theirs. If you find yourself frustrated with your loved one’s restlessness, take a step back to breathe and relax. This will allow you to revisit problems with a clear mind.

Avoid burnout by getting help and support. Trustworthy, memory care-trained in-home caregivers can provide much-needed respite for families caring for a loved one with dementia.

As dementia progresses, remaining at home may no longer be a viable option. If that’s the case, consider looking into memory care communities. These facilities offer personalized and thoughtful services, including calming design features, special therapies, and engaging activities that can help someone in the advanced stages of dementia.

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The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute medical, legal or financial advice or to create a professional relationship between AgingCare and the reader. Always seek the advice of your health care provider, attorney or financial advisor with respect to any particular matter, and do not act or refrain from acting on the basis of anything you have read on this site. Links to third-party websites are only for the convenience of the reader; AgingCare does not endorse the contents of the third-party sites.

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