When someone with dementia becomes anxious, upset or angry it is important how you approach them. It can be difficult to know how to help especially if they are unable to express themselves well.
It's good to have some ideas already in mind so you can act in a confident and calming way, and minimise your own emotions within the situation.
Of course how you approach someone and how they respond is going to depend on the individual. An agitated frail lady in her 90's may well be very different from an angry strong 60 year old man. It may be necessary to give the person some space to calm down, provided it can be done safely.
'Calm and Refocus' seemed to be the underlying words of advice offered from experts. So I decided to use them as a starting point for some techniques and thoughts I found which may help in these situations.
Consider outside causes of the irritation, such as discomfort, infection, dehydration or exhaustion. Could they be in pain or need their medication checked? Consider whether a distinct change in behaviour may warrant a doctor's consult.
Approach with a calm attitude. Individuals can be very sensitive to your mood, so the more calming and reassuring you can be the better. Rather than asking them to calm down, encourage them to tell you what is upsetting them.
Listen to their concerns, even if they sound unlikely, there still may be truth behind them. Listen to their underlying feelings and make it clear you empathise and want to help fix the problem.
Maintain routines thoughout the day. Sometimes a change, even a slight one, could be a trigger for someone becoming unsettled.
Activities can help distract a person and relieve boredom. Music, conversations, looking at photos, a puzzle or a fidget can help move a person into a better frame of mind.
Never dismiss someone's concerns out of hand or argue with the person. Whatever is upsetting them is very real to them.
Decrease distractions and try to keep their environment fairly constant. Loud noises, bright lights or a change of furniture can make life even more confusing for someone who is working hard to make sense of their place in the world.
Respect the person as an adult. Never scold or treat them as a naughty child.
Exercise, such as walking or an active game is a good way to help someone destress.
Feelings are more important than facts when talking to someone who is confused and anxious.
Offer a hug or a hand to be held if this is something the individual likes. Touch can be a very soothing option, a blanket or soft toy may also be of help.
Connect with the person by agreeing with them as much as possible. Discuss their feelings as you work out what may help or distract.
Understanding that life can be very confusing for someone with memory issues and the situation is not their fault can help you keep your own emotions in check.
Senses are an important way to connect to someone with dementia. Background music can help create a calming or uplifting mood. Familiar smells can bring comfort to someone feeling adrift. And of course looking at a favourite picture or eating a special treat can also be simple options to turn a person's mood around.
Understanding Changed Behaviour - Alzheimers New Zealand
Changes in Behaviour - Dementia New Zealand
Anxiety and Agitation - Alzheimers Association USA
Coping with Distress - Dementia UK