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How to Decrease Stress for Seniors with Dementia 

By Alyssa Ball

Seniors struggling with dementia will experience stress and anxiety as the disease progresses. This stress may be different from what adults experience when they are feeling anxious, and that’s because dementia physically changes the brain and its ability to process situations. Seniors may feel disoriented or confused by activities that used to be part of their normal routine. It can be difficult to connect with your loved one and help them process their stress. However, there are things you can do to help! In this post, we will discuss triggers of stress, signs of stress, and tips to help seniors with dementia deal with their stress.  

Causes of Stress in Seniors with Dementia 

Identifying the underlying source of stress in a senior with dementia can be difficult because they may have difficulty expressing how they are feeling or what is troubling them. Here are some common triggers of stress in seniors with dementia: 

  • Hunger or thirst 
  • Uncomfortable clothing 
  • Too hot or cold 
  • Too much noise or stimulation 
  • New environment or new people 
  • Need to use the bathroom 
  • Misperceived threats 
  • Fear or fatigue 

Some sources of stress for a senior with dementia may be inexplicable, or you may never discover the root cause. But as you watch for signs that your senior is stressed out, you can connect the dots to help identify and address the trigger of stress. 

Signs of Stress in Seniors with Dementia 

Seniors with dementia may exhibit stress in a different way than other adults due to the changes in their brain. Here are some signs that your loved one is stressed or anxious: 

  • Pacing or restlessness 
  • Refusing to eat or drink 
  • Mood swings and changes in personality 
  • Aggression 
  • Physical hiding 

Generally, you should watch for changes in your loved one’s mood or behavior. This can tell you a lot about how they are feeling.  

Tips for Helping a Senior with Dementia Manage Stress 

If you do notice signs of stress in your loved one, you can help them stay calm or redirect their attention so that they can calm down. Here are some tips for dealing with a senior with dementia: 

  1. Eliminate the trigger if possible. If you can identify the underlying cause of your loved one’s stress, then you can help address the stress at its core. For example, if the temperature is too hot or too cold, you can adjust the thermostat or give your loved one a blanket. If your loved one has been sitting for a while, they may need to get up  
  1. Listen to music. Music can be a source of calm for a senior and help them reduce their stress. In fact, studies show that music releases dopamine in the brain, and this hormone help trigger good feelings. Play music that you know your loved one enjoys or that is generally calming. You may want to play the music through headphones, which can help block out other stimuli in the room to help your loved one feel less stressed.  
  1. Do something they enjoy. In addition to listening to music, you can do an activity that your loved one enjoys — like puzzles, watching a movie, going for a walk, etc. Doing a hobby with your loved one can help them redirect their attention while also doing something they like. 
  1. Give them something to do. Sometimes seniors with dementia just need to do something — have something to touch, fidget with, or do with their hands — to reduce their stress and help them feel calm. Try to involve a senior in tasks around the house, like folding clothes or dusting. This can also help them feel like they are independent and contributing.  
  1. Monitor personal comfort. Make sure your loved one has had something to eat or drink to rule out hunger and thirst. Check for pain, infections, skin irritation, etc. You can also take your loved one to the bathroom. By monitoring your loved one’s personal comfort, you can help them remain calm.  
  1. Go outside. The outdoors can have a calming effect on anyone. Sunlight, birds chirping, and other familiar sights and sounds outside can help take your loved one’s mind off of their stress and redirect their energy. 
  1. Remain calm yourself. Dealing with a loved one who is stressed and agitated may cause you to feel the same. This principle is called mirroring; we often “mirror” the feelings and behaviors of those around us. However, it’s important that you remain calm when interacting with your loved one. As you demonstrate calmness, your loved one may begin to mirror that back to you. 
  1. Take your loved one to the doctor. Stress that seniors with dementia suffer could be caused by a medical condition or medication side effects. A UTI, for example, could cause mood irritation and changes in behavior. If you are unable to help your senior calm down, we recommend taking them to see their doctor to determine if there is an underlying medical cause.  

At Caring Senior Service, we understand the difficulties associated with caring for a loved one with dementia. That’s why we have a dementia-specific care program. Our caregivers are trained to know how to interact with and care for a senior with dementia to empower them to have a high quality of life. If you’re finding it difficult to manage the care of your loved one, let us help. We provide care services 24/7 and can be there when you need us.  

For additional information on caring for a loved one with dementia, download our Family Caregiver’s Guide to Alzheimer’s & Dementia 

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Tags: Alzheimer's & Dementia

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