June is National Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, and as we wrap up a month spent advocating for patients with Alzheimer’s and raising awareness about the signs, symptoms, and management of this horrible disease, we want to take some time to highlight a part of Alzheimer’s that many people don’t talk about, agitation or aggression related to Alzheimer’s dementia.
What Is Alzheimer’s Dementia Agitation?
There are currently over 5.8 million Americans suffering from Alzheimer’s dementia, a degenerative brain disease that slowly destroys a person’s memory and impairs their speech, thinking, and behavior. Living with Alzheimer’s dementia can be scary, confusing, and upsetting to the patients who are afflicted by the condition, and as a result it’s not uncommon for many patients who are struggling with Alzheimer’s dementia to experience fits of agitation or aggression.
It’s worth noting that during this era of self-quarantining This agitation can be expressed in a number of ways, but classic signs of agitation related to Alzheimer’s dementia are: constant pacing, restlessness or difficulty sleeping, hoarding, asking repetitive questions, difficulty separating from caregiver, a need for constant reassurance, screaming, lashing out verbally, and physical aggression such as kicking, destroying property, throwing things, etc.
What Causes Agitation In Patients With Alzheimer’s Dementia?
Living with Alzheimer’s dementia can be confusing and scary, and as a result there are a number of things that can trigger anxiety and agitation in patients who suffer from the condition. Consistency is key, and any new change can result in agitation, confusion, or even aggression in your loved one. The recent era of self-quarantining during this COVID-19 pandemic has made things even more difficult, with the drastic changes in routine contributing to increased agitation in many patients with Alzheimer’s dementia.
It’s worth noting that triggers can be different for each patient, but some of the most common things that can exacerbate a patient with Alzheimer’s dementia and cause a fit of agitation are the following:
- Environmental changes such as travel, hospitalization, new visitors, etc.
- Changes in living situation, such as moving to a new residence home or nursing home
- The introduction of a new caregiver
- Misperceived threats
- Fear and fatigue
- Alteration to their normal routine
- Overstimulation in their environment, such as too much noise/confusion
- Physical discomfort, such as pain, constipation, or soiled underwear/diaper
Tips For Coping With Agitation In Alzheimer’s Dementia Patients
Dealing with agitation related to Alzheimer’s dementia can be extremely upsetting for both the patient and the caregiver. The most important thing you can do is to identify signs of agitation within your loved one early on, which allows you to deal with the cause before “problem behaviors” begin. Doing nothing often makes agitation worse, and before you know it the situation can snowball into a much bigger problem.
If your loved one is showing signs of increased agitation, here are some things you can do to maintain a calm, consistent environment and help them cope with their Alzheimer’s dementia agitation:
- Try to stick to a consistent routine, encouraging your loved one to bathe, dress, and eat at the same time each day.
- Create a calm, safe living environment for your loved one.
- Build quiet times into the day, providing opportunities for your loved one to take a break from the noise, clutter, and stress of daily life.
- Incorporate physical activity into your loved one’s daily routine. Something as simple as taking a short walk every day can have a huge impact on their mood, providing a change of scenery and a breath of fresh air!
- Make time for soothing activities such as massage therapy, calming music, and reading.
- Be sure to check for physical reasons that your loved one might be experiencing agitation, such as hunger, thirst, needing to use the bathroom, and temperature discomfort.
- Always speak calmly and reassuringly, even when your loved one is lashing out or you find yourself frustrated by their behavior. Try to show that you understand why they are upset, and do everything you can to calm them.
- Be sure to inform your loved one’s caregivers, support staff, or other visitors about what triggers your loved one’s agitation and the methods you’ve identified that best help to calm them. That way everyone is equipped to help comfort your loved one, even if you are not there.
If your loved one is suffering from agitation related to Alzheimer’s dementia, they may be eligible to participate in our TRIAD research study – a clinical trial evaluating an investigational drug designed to reduce the symptoms of agitation associated with Alzheimer’s dementia.
To participate in this study, patients must:
- Be 50-90 years old
- Have moderate to severe agitation associated with Alzheimer’s dementia
- Have a caregiver who can attend all study visits
Additional criteria for eligibility may apply, but all study participants will receive study-related medical exams and the study drug at no cost.
Dealing with agitation related to Alzheimer’s dementia can be incredibly difficult, especially in severe cases, but there’s hope for a brighter future. A viable medication for patients with agitation related to Alzheimer’s dementia could be right around the corner, and until then implementing the above suggestions can go a long way towards reducing agitation related to Alzheimer’s dementia and improving the quality of life for both the patient and their caregivers.