Calming Agitation in Older Dementia Patients 

Published 11:29 pm Thursday, March 21, 2019

Anyone caring for a loved one with dementia knows that it’s a daily struggle.  Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia, robs the patient of more than memories. It changes the person whom you once knew and loved as the disease progresses.  Where your loved one may have been a quiet, cooperative person before the diagnosis of the disease, you may find that there are episodes of agitation and aggression that explode without warning on any given moment. 


Obviously, being on the receiving end of unexpected anger or aggression can create incredible stress for you as the caregiver, and it’s hard to remember that such behavior isn’t personal, it’s a symptom of the disease due to changes in the patient’s brain. 

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There are some things you can do to learn to deal with these behaviors, and doing so gives you the ability to better enjoy the days you spend with your loved one.  One of the things that dementia cannot steal from you is love.  Dementia patients do remember feelings and emotions, and they can feel love and happiness long after they have forgotten an actual visit or experience.  Here are some things you can do to reduce a patient’s agitation when dealing with dementia. 


  1.  Stay calm and do your best not to mirror or reflect the agitation back to the patient. When things get intense, stop and take a deep calming breath. Then do your best to assess the cause of the agitation. 
  1. Slow down and listen to what your loved one is saying, even if it makes absolutely no sense to you. Resist the urge to correct or contradict as that increases confrontation with the patient. Display warmth, make eye contact with the patient, smile and offer to help with whatever is needed. In some cases silence is your best approach or a verbal statement that deflects their thought process, such as why don’t we take a walk, or let’s look at some of the family photos. 
  1. For dementia patients, feelings can often be stronger than the confusing words they express. Here again, arguing will only make the situation worse.  If your loved one says, “I need to drive to see my newspaper, your response can be, “I know you want the car, so why don’t I go with you to the car and we’ll get what you want. 
  1. Treat your loved one with respect even in times of intense agitation, because again, feelings trump words and can be an effective way to better communicate. 
  1. When the patient is expressing fear, concern or strong desire you can use words that become bridging phrases to reduce those feelings.  Such phrases include: 
  • What is that like? 
  • Tell me more about…. 
  • It would be so nice to do that…. 


Dementia, particularly dealing with the aggression and agitation, can be challenging for caregivers. Remember the importance of your connection with your loved one. Work to provide a soothing environment and do your best to remain calm and loving. Empathize with your loved one’s feelings and always emphasize love. Your journey as a caregiver is often long and thankless. Take time for yourself, and hold tightly to the good times and memories you shared. 


Ron Kauffman is a Consultant & Expert Speaker on Issues of Aging. He may be contacted at (828) 696-9799 or by email at