Learn to handle dementia’s anxiety, and agitation


It can be common to see changes in the personality of someone living with dementia. Some of these changes include displayed anxiety and agitation – particularly in situations that would not have bothered an individual prior to a dementia diagnosis. Agitation and anxious behaviors include verbal or physical outbursts, restlessness, pacing and general emotional distress.

Anyone who displays anxious and/or agitated behaviors should receive a thorough medical evaluation. Illness or medication interactions can sometimes cause these behaviors, and it’s important to know the underlying cause of anxiety and agitation in order to treat it properly. 

Two different approaches to cope

There are two different and distinct approaches for dealing with agitation and anxiety. The approach that can be tried first is behavioral intervention, which includes identifying the behavior, understanding its cause, and adapting the caregiving situation to avoid triggers. Some common triggers are changes in a caregiver or living environment, travel, hospitalization, the presence of individuals the diagnosed individual may not recognize, bathing, and being asked to change clothes.

Simple tasks such as changing clothes could cause anxiety and agitation for someone living with dementia.

The second type of approach is prescription medications to treat agitation and anxious behaviors. There are several different medications that can be used to calm people’s anxious feelings or relax them so that they are no longer easily agitated.  It is important to consult a physician to explore possible medication options.

Learning how to prepare and respond to anxiety and agitation can be helpful. This can include listening to the frustration and trying to understand the cause of anxiousness or agitation. For example, a caregiver can provide reassurance and reflective listening while remaining calm themselves. Also, caregivers can remove stressors, triggers, or danger as well as create a calm environment by decreasing noise or distractions. It is also helpful to provide an opportunity for exercise and to simplify tasks and routines for the person with dementia. Caregivers might also try to involve the person with dementia in activities and find outlets for the person’s energy like exercise or coloring pictures.

Call us if you need help

For more information regarding anxiety and agitation, contact the Alzheimer’s Association at 800.272.3900 or visit alz.org/Dayton.







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