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Alzheimer’s and Anxiety: How to Calm Mom’s Sudden Storms

Those with loved ones who have Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia often tell us about their frustration when a mom or dad seems to suddenly become agitated for no apparent reason. And, while there is always a reason, it is often not readily apparent to those around them.

At Anthem Memory Care communities, we understand how a sudden onset of anxiety can unnerve caregivers, leaving them wondering “What happened? What did I do?”

First of all, realize that you may not have done anything at all to bring on your mom or dad’s anxiety. Often environmental stimuli that healthy brains quickly process and move beyond can be overwhelming to someone with dementia. As the brain loses key processing capabilities, a situation or even a sound, smell or visual stimuli seem threatening. Changes in their environment, such as a recent move or change in caregiver can create a constant state of underlying anxiety, which certain triggers can quickly bring to the surface.

Here are some tips we have used and that are also recommended by the Alzheimer’s Association to help calm that sudden storm of anxiety from a loved one with dementia:

  1. Listen. Ask why they are agitated. But do so in a calm way. Then listen to what they have to say. It may be something that is relatively easy to handle.
  2. Be reassuring. Try saying something like “I’m sorry that you’re upset.” Or “I am here with you. I’ll stay until you feel better.”
  3. Monitor and modify your own behavior. It is so easy (and understandable) to lose control yourself. Stop and check your voice level and your demeanor. The calmer you remain, the more likely the period of agitation will pass.
  4. Decrease unnecessary stimuli. Are people coming and going? Are there extraneous noises that can be muted by closing a door? Look around and try to remove anything or anyone who may be fueling the anxiety.
  5. Divert attention away from anxiety. Finally, as your loved one shows signs of calming down, transition to something you know they like to do. Look at some photos, listen to soothing music, or even take a walk if your loved one seems restless. Light physical activity can act as a release for pent up frustration and energy.

Of course it is so important to seek support from both family, close friends and local dementia support groups. They provide a valuable outlet for families to share their concerns with others in similar situations. Anthem Memory Care communities have monthly support groups, conducted by experienced professionals.

Resist the temptation to blame yourself, your loved one, or others around you for these anxiety surges. Focus on reassuring your loved one (and yourself) that this episode will pass and that you will see it through together.