You’ll try to keep your loved one home as long as you can. Personal stories from the frontlines, plus advice.

What causes agitation in those with dementia?

What causes agitation in those with dementia?


Agitation can be one of the most alarming behaviors to deal with, in a person living with dementia.

Your mom or spouse starts wringing their hands; then they get angry or have outbursts. It becomes a spiral and it is exhausting for both of you.

As a caregiver, you can feel guilty (did I cause it?), frustrated, angry, at your wit’s end. The best way to deal with it is to understand the causes, and get help with tips on how to manage it.

It is never as easy as the help guides say, but here are some helpful notes from Elements Behavioral Health:

The most common causes of agitation episodes

  • Pain and discomfort from sitting in the same position, illness or injury
  • Changes in environment or routine
  • Overstimulation
  • Lack of sleep
  • Hunger or thirst
  • Loneliness
  • Medications that can cause aggression and agitation
  • Being too cool or warm
  • Impending medical procedures
  • Poor communication
  • Routine disruptions
  • Poor lighting

According to the site: “Anything that takes the dementia patient out of his comfort zone can cause an explosive and sometimes violent episode. However, careful consideration of the person’s routine, medical requirements and social needs can curb many of the problems before they begin.”

Avoiding the Meltdowns

As you and the dementia patient get to know one another, start picking up cues to her discomfort.

These will be the signs that help you set the meltdown avoidance plan into motion as the disease progresses.

When you start to see those cues, check the environment for uncomfortable conditions.

Look at the clock, and consider the routine to rule out medication, hunger, thirst or sleep.

Adjust the temperatures, provide a little company or get visitors out of the room. As you get to know the disease, you will find that certain things almost always set the patient off, so those are the things you correct first to avoid a meltdown.

If everything is fine, it is time to distract the patient. Use a favorite item or conversation topic. Maybe it’s time for an activity like a walk outside-fresh air is great for dementia patients, and exercise can help too-or another favorite activity. Soothing the patient is important if nothing else works. Soft tones, touching or hugs if welcome (approach the person from the front and slowly) or simply talking is sometimes enough to thwart the dreaded meltdown.

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