Anxiety is a common experience for people who are living with dementia.
While some people may be able to share their feelings with their loved ones, for others, it may be difficult to express their concerns or even recognise that they are worried about something. In these cases, it is important that carers, family members and friends notice behavioural changes which may indicate their loved one is feeling anxiety, so they can get the help they need.
How can I tell if my loved one with dementia is anxious?
When someone with dementia is experiencing anxiety, they may display certain behaviours that indicate that they are feeling worried or upset. This may include being restless, pacing, fidgeting, becoming agitated, or appearing to be ‘stuck in a groove’ and unable to move on.
The person may also ‘shadow’ you – i.e. follow you closely around the house like a shadow. They may get upset if you try to leave the room or the house.
What can cause anxiety in people with dementia?
There are many reasons why someone with dementia may display anxious behaviours. Some common ones are:
- changes taking place in the brain
- feeling unwell or being in pain
- being faced with tasks that are too complex – they may feel overwhelmed with everyday demands, or become anxious if they can’t do something which usually comes naturally to them
- fear as they lose understanding of what is happening around them
- a sense of loss and grief, as they have an awareness that something is wrong
- responding to negative emotions and tension in people around them
- changes in their environment, such as a new living arrangement
- feeling concerned about people in the past
- seeking an environment that is familiar to them
Every person is unique, and will react to their life situation in a different way. If you are concerned about your loved one’s behaviour, it’s important to understand what may be causing them to act that way. This will help you put effective strategies in place to help relieve their anxiety.
Ways to help someone who is anxious
Once you know why your loved one is feeling anxious, there are some steps you can take to help them feel comforted and safe.
Provide reassurance and support
Try to speak to them calmly and gently; be empathetic to what they are experiencing; focus on positive events, and make sure you are not putting too many demands on them. Reassuring statements like, “I’m here for you,” “you are safe here,” and “I’ll sit with you until you feel better” can help them feel more at ease.
Consult a doctor
Getting a medical check-up will help identify or rule out any physical reasons why the person is displaying anxious behaviours, such as illness, unexpressed pain or medication side effects. It is also an opportunity for you and your loved one to discuss any concerns with a health professional, and seek their advice.
Create a calm environment
Consider whether you can change anything in the person’s environment to make it less stressful. This might mean tuning out background noise such as turning off the TV, moving them to a calmer space, providing them with a security object, or changing the temperature of the room. Also check their personal comfort: are they in pain? Do they need to use the toilet? Are they hungry?
Listen to their frustrations
If possible, try to talk to them about why they are feeling anxious and what they are worried about. When they express themselves, actively and patiently listen to their frustrations. Reassure them that they are heard and understood with statements like, “I’m sorry you are upset,” and “that sounds hard”.
Make tasks simpler
If you suspect your loved one is feeling anxious because they are unable to do certain things, try to simplify the task so that it is more achievable. Reduce the demands that are being made on the person during the day – offering a choice between two options, for example, can be easier to cope with than being asked an open-ended question.
Communicate with your support network
If you want to try some strategies for managing anxious behaviours, make sure you communicate this to your other family members and carers who support your loved one. They may also be able to help you recognise why your loved one may be anxious and suggest ideas for how to help, based on their own experience with them.
Provide opportunities for exercise
Research has shown that exercising regularly can lead to less stress, better mental health and more resilience against negative emotions. Try something as simple as going for a walk around the block together. You may also want to try switching from caffeinated to non-caffeinated drinks, as too much caffeine can affect your mood.
Involve the person in self-soothing activities
Hobbies such as dancing, drawing, painting music or gardening can be a helpful way of diverting attention away from anxious thoughts by replacing it with a relaxing activity. Doing something they enjoy can also be a good outlet for their energy, helping them to expend less energy on worrying and anxious behaviours.
Look after yourself too
Dealing with your loved one’s anxious behaviours can be overwhelming, especially if you are unable to get any time to yourself. Make sure you have enough opportunities to take a break and recharge. To help, Dementia Caring offer excellent respite services for people with dementia, and are always happy to chat through your needs.
Dementia Caring provides professional, person-centred care to people living with Dementia. Please get in touch for a FREE consultation from one of our trained experts.