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How to Help Your Loved One With Dementia Cope With Anxiety

Man sitting on the couch with elder woman

The fear or thought that something bad is about to happen can make anyone feel anxious from time to time. However, anxiety is especially prevalent in people with dementia, particularly in the early stages of the disease as people begin to recognize their losses and the seriousness of the disease.

Later, they may become anxious about being left alone or abandoned. Anxiety may cause them to be restless, unable to sleep, or pace back and forth. This agitation can keep them from having a normal day-and-night routine and might become harmful for them and their caregivers if not addressed. Here are a few tips on how to help a person with dementia cope with anxiety.

Symptoms Of Anxiety

People with dementia who have anxiety may have a range of psychological symptoms:

  • They may feel tired, uneasy, irritable, and may struggle to concentrate.
  • They can also have physical symptoms such as fast or irregular heartbeats called palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea, or diarrhea.
  • They can present changes in their behavior, such as being agitated or hoarding.
  • They may constantly need to be reassured or may closely follow a caregiver or family member around, not wanting to be left alone. They may also be restless and pace or fidget.

Causes And Triggers Of Anxiety

Some causes of anxiety are similar to the causes of depression. They are also often similar to the causes of anxiety in people who don’t have dementia, including:

  • Damage to the parts of the brain that regulate emotion.
  • Having a history of anxiety in the family.
  • Having a history of traumatic or upsetting events.
  • Worrying about difficult issues such as health, financial or relationship problems.

While people who have had anxiety in the past are more likely to have it again later, people in the early stages of dementia may have anxiety that is linked specifically to their worries about their memory and future. There are different types of dementia and the fact that people with vascular dementia often have a better insight and awareness of their condition than people with Alzheimer’s explains why anxiety is more common in people with vascular dementia.

Change is often the biggest trigger of agitation. A difference in the person’s routine, surroundings, or the caregivers they see can make them feel anxious. In some cases, agitation can happen because of an infection or another medical problem.

How To Help Your Loved One With Dementia Cope With Anxiety

Create comfort

Create a calm place for them. Make sure the room is at a comfortable temperature. Cut out background noise from the TV or radio, clear away clutter, and make their daily tasks as simple as possible. At night, use low lighting or night-lights to help them feel less confused and afraid.

Help them maintain a healthy diet

Support your loved one to regularly eat a wide range of healthy foods and not drink too much alcohol or caffeinated drinks.

Help them stay active

Doing physical activity such as a short walk, dancing, or some easy exercise at home can reduce feelings of anxiety and sleep problems. Doing group activities, if possible, can also help to reduce anxiety. You can also take them outside regularly and spend some time together in nature.

Keep your emotions in check

While dealing with a person with dementia can sometimes be overwhelming, it’s important to stay calm and not raise your voice as that can just make the situation worse. You may feel frustrated but try to keep your voice calm and steady and avoid arguing or criticizing them.

Monitor personal comfort

Check for pain, hunger, thirst, constipation, full bladder, fatigue, being too hot or cold, infections, and skin irritation. Sometimes a feeling of physical discomfort can cause your loved one to be anxious.

Talk to them about their feelings

Your loved one may find it helpful to talk about their fears and feelings. Try to understand their thoughts and reassure them that they’re safe with you. Use calming statements and be understanding and supportive.

Caring for a loved one with dementia can be overwhelming and it’s not easy to know when you need some help and support. Our 5-minute Home Care Assessment evaluates six key areas from personal hygiene to eating habits and behavior to help you confidently take the next steps in helping your loved one live a fulfilled life.

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