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How Do You Calm Down Someone with Dementia?

Written on . Posted in Dementia

calming someone down with dementia

How Do You Calm Down Someone with Dementia?

Although those living with dementia may seem perfectly normal most of the time, there may be occasions where they become agitated or even aggressive, particularly as the disease progresses. This could be a result of environment, illness, or simply that they are having a bad day. So, how do you calm down someone with dementia should this situation arise? We list twelve tips for calming down agitated dementia patients, including reassurance techniques you can use on your loved one.

Causes of Irritation or Anger

Finding the root of what is causing anger, sadness or irritation quickly can help to diffuse the situation. Here are some of the most common causes of anger in dementia patients:

  • Poor sleep
  • Limited bowel movements
  • Dirty clothes
  • Pain
  • Stress
  • Feelings of loss
  • Change in location or routine
  • Loud noises
  • Feeling lonely
  • Changes in medication

How to Calm Down an Agitated Dementia Patient

  1. Offer a Calming Environment

Just because your dementia patient is upset and angry doesn’t mean you should take it personally. It can be easy to let these feelings of aggression upset you, but the most important thing to remember is to stay calm. Your dementia patient cannot control their feelings! Stop, take a deep breath, and demonstrate calmness. Being a calming presence helps make your loved one feel more relaxed and safe. Furthermore, they might begin to ‘mirror’ you. Hold their hands and take deep breaths together until the anger subsides.

  1. Declutter

A busy, noisy or bright space may be irritating your dementia patient. Perhaps the sunlight is too bright, the walls are too colorful, or too many non-essential objects are on show. Clutter can cause sensory overdrive as your brain works double-time to process unnecessary information. Moving to a simpler, dementia-friendly environment may help to reduce anxiety and stress. Alternatively, you could relocate to a sensory room until they calm down. 

Additionally, ensuring that there are plenty of lamps available to turn on once the sun goes down can help to reduce glare and reflections, which can often be startling for people with dementia.

  1. Validate Their Feelings

Although their reasons for feeling upset may seem irrational, validating their feelings and offering words of affirmation can help your loved one to come around quicker. Communicating effectively by letting them know that they are allowed to feel upset and that these feelings will pass can help reassure them and calm them down quicker. Ask them gentle questions such as, ‘Tell me more about why you feel this way?’, or, ‘Would you like me to check on that for you?’. Although their perception of reality may be twisted, validating their feelings through reassuring questions can help diffuse a situation quickly and protect their dignity.

  1. Pay Attention to Their Feelings

As mentioned above, people with dementia may struggle with a warped sense of reality detached from normality. So, how do you calm down someone with dementia regarding topics that aren’t real? Firstly, pay attention to their feelings. You could ask them questions relating to their feelings to understand their emotions better, helping to shift the focus away from their perception of reality. There is no point in trying to reason with them, as this will only cause further confusion and agitation. Instead, provide clear reassurance, validate their feelings, and move the conversation on.

  1. Slow Down

If feelings of agitation persist, focus solely on slowing down. Sit them down, and ask them to describe to you why they are upset slowly. Try not to reason or fact-check; simply nod and offer reassurance. Once they have expressed their emotions, offer a positive conversation change. Look them directly in the eyes, give them a hug and smile. After, try suggesting a soothing indoor activity you can do together to shift the focus and re-engage their minds.

  1. Use Aromatherapy

Have you ever smelled a specific scent that transported you back to a happy memory? Similarly, does the smell of lavender make you sleepy, or does the smell of rosemary invigorate you? Scent can be intensely powerful, and aromatherapy can help calm down agitated dementia patients. We recommend using calming scents such as vetiver or lavender to help calm down someone with dementia. 

  1. Play Music

Like scent, music is a powerful memory tool that can provoke many emotions. If you’re struggling with how to keep a dementia patient calm, make a note of their favorite songs and play them when they start to become upset. Many people find that positive music helps soothe dementia patients quickly, turning feelings of sadness into happiness and joy. Offer to sing and dance with them to help take their mind off whatever was upsetting them. 

  1. Maintain Routines

A method we find particularly helpful for calming someone with dementia, and for those figuring out how to keep dementia patients calm for longer, is to maintain a sense of routine in their daily lives. We are habitual creatures, so routine helps ground us and keep us feeling purposeful. If you constantly alter your routine, you can feel stressed and out of place and for dementia patients, a consistent routine allows them to engage in familiar activities, which minimizes distress. To reduce challenging behaviors and help your dementia patient increase confidence and independence, stick to a loose routine that suits them and their abilities.

  1. Using Pets for Comfort

We all know the feeling of bliss when a cat comes to sit on your lap or when a dog rolls over to display its belly. Unfortunately for many dementia patients, care homes or supported living places may not allow real-life animals, so alternatives are essential. Perfect Petzzz is a great alternative, as they mimic real-life pets and provide soothing vibrations, which is a great sensory tool for calming and relaxation. Alongside calming dementia patients in the throes of their distress, Perfect Petzzz can be the ultimate tool for keeping dementia patients calm throughout the day, offering a constant, soothing companion to rely on.

  1. Check for Discomfort

Aggression or agitation could be due to a discomfort that your dementia patient is struggling to tell you about. Fidgeting, restlessness, and irritability are signs of someone with dementia being in discomfort, so ask your loved one multiple questions to find the source of their discomfort. For example, ask them if they are hungry, if anything hurts, if their clothes are comfortable or when they last went to the toilet. Making sure that your loved one is comfortable with no issues will help to reduce any feelings of anger.

  1. Connect

Dealing with a sudden outburst of anger can be both heartbreaking and startling, but you must remember that it is not personal. Dementia is a serious, all-encompassing disease that affects the entire brain, and so your loved one simply cannot control their actions or emotions. In these moments, it’s important that you take time to recenter and remember that your main role is to offer support and connection. Try to connect with your loved one as much as possible in the in-between moments. Go on walks together, engage in sensory activities or talk to them. The more you connect, the deeper they will trust you, which can help in moments of confusion and anger.

  1. Refocus

Finally, pay attention to your immediate surroundings and current activity. Look closer to see if anything small is triggering your loved one. It can be as small as an untied shoelace or a card out of place. Try to quickly and calmly rectify the problem or gently change the activity. Similarly, if your current conversation is becoming troublesome, change the topic gently. Acknowledge their feelings and offer positive alternatives to make them feel better.

In moments of upset, come back to these tips for how to calm down someone with dementia and try to pick out the most appropriate tools to use in your situation. Above all else, remember to be gentle and positive, and regularly implement techniques for keeping dementia patients calm. For further dementia resources, check out our blog and curated selection of dementia-friendly products. For any additional questions, please contact our friendly team today.