Anxiety is a feeling of fear, restlessness or agitation. Feeling anxious in difficult situations is a normal human emotion; however, excessive restlessness even in situations that don’t pose much of a threat isn’t normal behavior. Higher levels of anxiety can be diagnosed as a disorder. Excessive anxiety is one of the early signs of dementia/Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s patients may feel scared or fearful in simpler situations. Circumstances that might generally seem harmless may be triggering for Alzheimer’s patients.
Recognizing the signs of anxiety is very important for caregivers to help patients counter it. Anxiety is a built-in response system of our body. It is the fight-or-flight reaction brain triggers when faced with a threat. It is a needed trait of the brain which signals the body that there is an impending danger which needs either a defense response or a run response to save oneself. However, when this becomes overwhelming and hinders the daily tasks, it has crossed as a normal reaction and most likely turned into a disorder. Symptoms of anxiety disorder could be agitation, difficulty in focusing, always dreading the worst, feeling tensed constantly and Social aloofness. Patients with anxiety may also have physical symptoms such as Lack of sleep, headaches, sweating, muscle stiffness, stomach aches and high heartbeat.
Once the signs of anxiety are identified, caregivers or the people surrounding Alzheimer’s patients need to know the triggers that cause the anxiety. In the initial stages of the disease, the diagnosis may itself scare a person of what the future will hold in regards to health and coping up with the disease. A person diagnosed with dementia suffers from a decline in the ability to process and comprehend new information. In later stages, such patients are prone to confusion and fear when encountered with situations they are unable to relate themselves to. A decline in a person’s ability to absorb new information may trigger the fight-or-flight response more often causing anxiety and panic attacks.
- Strange places or moving to a new home may also be triggering for Alzheimer’s patients. Reduced mental abilities make it difficult for them to cope with new information. This may trigger a sense of fear and may cause agitation and anxiety in Alzheimer’s patients. Also, a sudden and massive change in daily routine may do the same.
- Patients may also show signs of social aloofness which is also a type of anxiety known as social phobia. People with Alzheimer’s may feel embarrassed in social situations because of their forgetfulness. Social interactions for Alzheimer’s patient become a daunting task as they can easily forget even the most recent conversations. Being pushed into social interactions may trigger their anxiety in such situations.
- Likewise, unable to achieve simple tasks and being dependent on other people for their needs may also cause agitation and depressive episodes in the patients. Being unable to tie your own shoelaces, after been doing it for years, is bound to be frustrating for an adult.
- Correcting or constant reprimand may also be agitating for an Alzheimer’s patient. Since they are aware that their disease is making them dependent on people for their daily tasks, being told to do things a certain way or making them realize what they are doing is not the correct way may trigger their anxiety.
Tackling anxiety is necessary to avoid symptoms of depression and social aloofness which may worsen the mental condition of the patient. Increased anxiety may have negative effects on the health of the patients as well if the resultant physical symptoms aggravate. Here we have outlined some ways the patients or their caregivers can help reduce anxiety:
- Accepting that there are other people suffering in the same way. Joining support groups for such patients may help in coping with the initial distress of the diagnosis. Planning things out for the later stages may help alleviate the initial panic. Working out financial plans and sorting out healthcare may release some of the stress about the future.
- Once symptoms aggravate, it needs to be made sure the patient is not exposed to situations and circumstances that trigger anxiety. Understanding the triggers will help in avoiding them. Keeping a routine for daily activities, avoiding taking the patients to overcrowded social gatherings or avoiding harsh/rude tones while communicating are some ways anxiety can be countered.
- Interacting with someone close and expressing what makes them anxious or depressed can reduce anxiety. Being lonely or isolated can trigger anxiety/ depression in such patients. Making them feel comfortable with you will help them in opening up and share what worries them and makes them uncomfortable.
- Practice relaxing techniques. Breathing exercise can help control an impending panic attack. Deep breathing calms the nerves and can reduce agitation.
- Taking part in activities that interest the patient. Doing things that one likes has a relaxing effect on the mind. People who love reading books, drawing or painting find it as a stress reliever. Keeping the patient busy in such activities may help keep the anxiety and stress controlled.
- Trying to keep them involved in the simple easy task will keep their mind from stress and anxiety. Complex tasks or confusing activities may worry the patients if they are unable to perform well.
- Getting frustrated or agitated around them may depress and discourage them to get involved in things. Speaking calmly and not reacting rashly to them may reduce anxiety.
- Proper rest and sleep schedule can keep the patients relaxed. Tired and exhausted minds may get agitated easily.
- Making sure you are polite or not too assertive when it comes to telling Alzheimer’s patients how to do things. Letting them do things their way may help bring back the confidence lost and may make them happier.
- Extreme levels of anxiety may also result in aggressive behavior. Professional assistance may be required if it is leading to severe behavior disorder or self-harm. Medications for controlling anxiety and agitation would need to be prescribed for the patients by medical experts.
Anxiety in an Alzheimer’s patient could be the result of the frustration brought about by the disease and also a direct cause of dementia. Proper care when dealing with the patients and appropriate medicine can help Alzheimer’s patients stay calm and avoid the panic attacks and depressive episodes.