Agitation and Alzheimer’s: How Can Family Members Manage It?

May 20, 2019

Agitation is one of the most difficult behaviors for families to manage at home when a loved one has Alzheimer’s. These tips may help.

Caring for a senior loved one who has Alzheimer’s disease often presents unique challenges. From sleep deprivation to wandering, family caregivers find themselves having to manage complicated behaviors. A common one is agitation.

Older adults who have Alzheimer’s often experience increased agitation later in the day, as the sun begins to go down. This condition is known as sundowning or sundowner’s syndrome.

Agitation isn’t limited to late afternoons and evenings, however. It can occur other times of the day too. The key to helping your senior loved one find peace may lie in determining what could be triggering the behavior.

5 Causes of Agitation in an Adult with Alzheimer’s Disease

  1. Change in routine: Memory loss makes it tough for a person with Alzheimer’s disease to adapt to change. A variation in routine or environment can increase agitation. A structured, predictable schedule allows an adult with Alzheimer’s to feel more confident and in control. This often results in less agitation.
  2. Hectic environment: Because of the damage the disease does to the brain, people with Alzheimer’s are less able to multitask or process too many things at one time. When a senior with Alzheimer’s is in a hectic environment, it can lead to heightened agitation. For example, if the senior is at your home during a family gathering, the noisy background might be too much for them to handle. Crowded public places, like a restaurant or shopping mall, may also cause problems. Maintaining a calm, quiet environment is usually best.
  3. Overly fatigued: Sleep problems are common among seniors with Alzheimer’s. Family members often say it feels like their loved one can go days without sleeping. When a person with Alzheimer’s disease becomes extremely tired, it can lead to agitation. By finding a way to manage the senior’s sleep issues, you may be able help them to feel less agitated throughout the day.
  4. Excessive activity: Family caregivers lead busy lives. If you don’t have anyone to stay with your senior loved one while you run errands, you might need to take them with you. Doing too much in one day, however, can increase agitation. Consider dividing your stops over several days. Experts also suggest planning activities around your loved ones best and worst times of day. For many, morning is the best time. Afternoon activity might increase the risk for sundowning.
  5. Undiagnosed pain: Verbal communication skills often become impaired as Alzheimer’s disease progresses. This can make it tough for a caregiver to recognize when their loved one is in pain. Suffering with undiagnosed pain understandably increases agitation. If the senior you are caring for is unusually restless, look at their face for signs of pain and distress. You may be able point to different parts of the body and ask them if it hurts there to figure out what is going on. While this approach may not work for everyone, it might help narrow down the problem.

If you’ve explored each of these common triggers without success, it may be time to talk with a physician. They may have other options to pursue, such as reviewing the senior’s medication list for potential adverse reactions or side effects that cause agitation.

Dementia Care at Legacy Senior Living

If you are struggling to manage a loved one’s safety and well-being at home, we can help. Our award-winning memory care programs are designed to be a refuge from the storms caused by dementia. Call the Legacy Senior Living nearest you to learn more today!