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3.6 Managing anxiety about changes to memory, thinking and perception

Strategies that reduce anxiety for people with dementia.

Worrying about losing or forgetting important things, feeling unsure of what is happening, or even forgetting who people are can all contribute to a great deal of anxiety. For someone with dementia, anxiety can manifest itself as constantly asking the same question, following around their care partner (sometimes called ‘shadowing’), or becoming increasingly upset or confused.  

Supporting thinking and memory in the face of anxiety requires: 

  • A calm environment. In dementia, the brain does not cope well with competing distractions such as trying to have a conversation with the TV on. Reducing background noise is important to enable the brain, and the person with dementia, to function at their best. Marie created a ‘calm space’ where her husband Alex could retreat to when things threatened to overwhelm him in their noisy family home.  

  • Monitoring and responsiveness. Careful monitoring of the person with dementia’s mental and physical state. Don’t push the point of developing new habits such as checking calendars or placing items in their correct spot if the person is feeling tired, hungry, flustered, or unwell. People with dementia will become more tired than the average person as their brain has to work much harder to process information.They are typically at their best in the morning. Try to program more challenging activities at this time when they are feeling rested. 

  • Being active outdoors: walking, cycling, and being in nature can reduce stress and anxiety. Regular exercise can positively influence mood and promotes a better night’s sleep. 

  • Relaxation: Suggest a soothing activity like having a cup of tea or listening to music. Massages can be helpful, and there is some evidence that aroma therapy with lavender or lemon scents have a calming effect.  

  • Staying calm: Keep a level head. Try not to get frustrated and keep your voice calm. Anxiety is contagious. Sometimes you may need to leave the situation for a while and return when you feel more at ease. 

  • Identifying with the person’s feelings: Recognizing the person with dementia’s feelings of frustration may help to reduce their anxiety. For example, you can validate someone’s feelings by saying it out loud to them in a calm tone of voice, “I understand that you are upset. I can see why you would be frustrated.” 

Try strategies to help with life

Reread the article and write down some strategies that you think might be helpful to you. Then try them out.