Handling Dementia-Related Agitation and Paranoia
How to calm an agitated, fearful person who has dementia
As the condition of a person with dementia worsens, so does troubling behavior such as agitation and paranoia. Caregivers may see an increase in the patient's irritability, sleeplessness, physical aggression and suspiciousness of others.
Caregivers can minimize these problems by understanding what triggers the behavior and developing some strategies to calm the person.
Coping With Agitation
Agitation may be triggered by a variety of things, including environmental factors, fear and fatigue. Most often, agitation is triggered when the person experiences “control” being taken from him. Here are a few ways to minimize agitation:
- Limit caffeine, sugar and junk food.
- Reduce noise, clutter or the number of persons in the room.
- Maintain structure by keeping the same routines.
- Keep household objects and furniture in the same places. Familiar objects and photographs offer a sense of security and can suggest pleasant memories.
- Try gentle touch, soothing music, reading or walks to quell agitation.
- Speak in a reassuring voice.
- Do not try to restrain the person during a period of agitation.
- Keep dangerous objects out of reach.
- Allow the person to do as much for himself as possible. Support his independence and ability to care for himself.
- Acknowledge the confused person’s anger over the loss of control in his life. Tell him that you understand his frustration.
- Distract the person with a snack or an activity.
- Allow the person to forget the troubling incident. Confronting a confused person may increase anxiety.
Dealing With Paranoia and Trust Issues
It's unsettling for a person with dementia when he or she sees a loved one suddenly become suspicious, jealous or accusatory.
Remember, what the person is experiencing is very real to them. It is best not to argue or disagree. This, too, is part of the dementia. Try not to take it personally.
Here are some additional tips:
- If the confused person suspects money is “missing,” allow her to keep small amounts of money in a pocket or handbag for easy inspection.
- Help them look for the object and then distract them into another activity.
- Try to learn where the confused person’s favorite hiding places are for storing objects, which are frequently assumed to be “lost.”
- Avoid arguing.
- Take time to explain to other family members and home-helpers that suspicious accusations are a part of the dementing illness.
- Try nonverbal reassurances like a gentle touch or hug.
- Respond to the feeling behind the accusation and then reassure the person. You might try saying, “I see this frightens you; stay with me, I won’t let anything happen to you.”