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Agitation and nervousness

Changes in mood


My mother was pacing up and down the living room, rearranging cushions, moving ornaments and opening and closing the drawers on the sideboard. She was making my wife nervous. Then I had an idea. I went upstairs and pulled all the clean towels out of the cupboard onto the floor. I brought them downstairs and asked my mother if she could fold them all, as both my wife and I were too busy. She set to work straight away and the agitation gradually died down.

When agitated or nervous, people with dementia usually appear to be restless and irritable. They may pace up and down or rush around fiddling with everything, e.g. moving things in the kitchen, rearranging the furniture or turning all the taps on. Sometimes it can be caused by modifications in the brain rather than something that has happened or that you have done. However, such behaviour can make you and other members of the family feel uneasy or equally nervous. To deal with agitated behaviour or nervousness, it is best to try to keep your calm and to communicate this to the person with dementia.

How to prevent agitation and nervousness

It might help to reduce drinks such as tea, coffee and hot chocolate, which all contain caffeine, unless otherwise indicated. You could also try to simplify the environment, e.g. avoid too much noise, too many people, unnecessary changes, too much activity, etc. If agitation becomes a regular problem or the person becomes extremely agitated, in the last resort your doctor may be able to prescribe medication, although you should beware of side effects.

How to cope with agitation and nervousness

It is advisable to try to avoid restraining or preventing someone with dementia from moving about when they are feeling agitated or nervous. Check whether there is something hurting them, e.g. something sharp in their shoe. People in this state may have extraordinary strength. Even just gripping your arm could be extremely painful. It is therefore better to give plenty of space and to speak in a gentle and calm voice. It can sometimes help to find something for the person to fiddle with such as a handkerchief or to find something constructive to do such as peeling potatoes. Some carers have found that giving someone with dementia a glass of water to drink (in an unbreakable container) helps. Finally, you should not blame yourself. This problem is not caused by something you have or have not done.



Last Updated: Thursday 06 August 2009