Mar 22, 2018

Comforting a Person with Dementia When They Are Agitated

Living with a dementia diagnosis can be challenging for the person and those around them who care for them.

There is a multitude of symptoms that a person may or may not experience, and an overwhelming amount will find that they deal with agitation at some point in their diagnosis.

However, it should be noted that “agitation” itself is not a symptom of dementia. Rather, it is the person communicated that they have an unmet need.

People living with dementia will experience a decline in their cognitive abilities as well as their ability to communicate.

They may get confused about where they are or be unable to recognise the people around them – even for a person without dementia, this can be a frightening experience.

But if the carers around them are equipped to know what to do, the situation can be calmed and managed.

When a person is agitated, their breathing is affected. This is a part of the “fight or flight” response that every human has. You will see that they are taking lots of short sharp breaths, and are possible hyperventilating.

When you come across a person who is frantic and agitated – telling them that everything is ok and convincing them that they are “wrong” will actually upset them more. The better option is to “agree” with them in a calming manner.

Try to soothe their breathing – long breaths through the mouth will relax their ribcage and allow more oxygen into their bodies.

So as you are talking to them, mimic what they are saying and take a few breaths like this yourself. You should find that they will mimic you too and start taking similar breaths.

Physical contact during a distressing time can be soothing. Hold the person’s hand, rub their shoulder to make is clear that you are there and that you want to help them.

A soothing gesture that can calm a person is a “palm pump”. When you are holding their hand, squeeze and release their hand slightly to a consistent but gentle, rhythm, almost like a heartbeat.

Pressure in the palm calms people, even those with dementia.

People with dementia who are agitation are often tensing their muscle. And if you try to fight this motion and move them, it just tenses them up more. In some situations, it may cause them to lash out at the carer – they are not doing this to harm you, rather, it’s a response because of their panic.

If you can ensure that no harm will come to yourself, in that they are not hitting or throwing things at you, try to hold their hand and calm their breathing.

Once you diffuse the situation, it will allow you to learn what the problem or unmet need is and hopefully be able to solve it.

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  1. I have found that when i get angry and upset at my Alzheimer’s dementia husband for annoying me with speach that i don’t understand what he needs. I now go up to him and give him a big hug, It calms both of us, we then sit together so i can try and figure out what he wants. Its hard at times.

    1. Thank you for sharing this Barbara. And how lovely to hear that you have worked out a way to get through the challenges you face.


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