Everyone to some degree, especially with the global climate as it is, has suffered feelings of anxiety. In fact, 1 in 6 people report experiencing a common mental health problem like anxiety in any given week, according to mental health charity, Mind.
Prevalence of anxiety symptoms in dementia varies markedly by study, with estimates ranging from 25% to 70% of cases. The causes of anxiety in a person who has dementia are often very similar to those who suffer with anxiety who do not have dementia and can include:
- Family history of anxiety
- Worrying about everyday life issues such as; money, relationships and health
- Experiencing a stressful or upsetting event
- Damage to the area of the brain that regulates emotions
Typically, those who have anxiety will have an increased fear that something bad is going to happen to them. This may bring about physical changes as well as psychological changes, with some traits and symptoms similar to that experienced with phobias, GAD (generalised anxiety disorder), panic attacks and obsessive thoughts.
It is complicated diagnosing people with dementia and anxiety due to the overlapping symptoms. This guide will help you to differentiate between traditionally diagnosed dementia signs and symptoms and those associated with anxiety so that your friends, family and loved ones receive the correct level of support dependent on their needs.
When it comes to recognising dementia, it is more common for those suffering from vascular, frontotemporal dementia to experience anxiety. It is notably less common in people with Alzheimer’s disease. Generally speaking, it is common for those with vascular dementia to have anxiety and often it makes symptoms of dementia worse.
Cognitive processes that can be affected by Anxiety
- Attention span
- Decision making
Anxiety is often more traceable in those that have a good insight and awareness of their disease. However, the traits in general are often harder to decipher from those suffering from anxiety who don’t have dementia.
Anxiety may be caused by a number of different factors, interactions, change in environment or any circumstances that can worsen that person’s ability to think, making it more difficult for them.
Situations that may lead to feelings of anxiety can include:
- Changes in environment such as travel, new people or hospitalisation
- Misperceived threats
- Fear, fatigue and constant reassurance from the people closest to them can cause deeper feelings of anxiety when they can’t make sense of the situation and why they’re pursuing these activities
Understanding triggering situations
There are several situations that may trigger distress, confusion or discomfort for your relative or close friend who is suffering from Dementia. The aim is to create a calm environment, and avoid environmental triggers where possible. Simplify tasks and routines as much as possible, as this will help your loved one feel in control within a situation they’re familiar with, and can manage.
Below we run through some of the more common physiological symptoms.
- Excessive worry
- Feeling tired
- Feeling irritable
- Struggling to concentrate
- Feeling uneasy
- Avoiding social situations
Some physical symptoms include:
- Muscle tension
- Irregular heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
- Irregular sleep patterns
- Loss of interest in enjoyed hobbies
Agitation is a very common sign of anxiety. Hoarding is another behavioural change to look out for; there are a lot of behavioural patterns that can be triggered by anxiety, and a relative may shy away from company or busy spaces if they are suffering from anxiety. Additionally, dementia and anxiety may bring on fidgeting and a sense of agitation.
What are the common treatments for anxiety?
Most commonly, Benzodiazepine is prescribed by a medical professional. However, in general this is avoided where possible for elderly sufferers as it can also cause confusion and risk of over-sedation, increasing the risk of falls and fractures.
How can I support someone suffering from dementia and anxiety?
There are plenty of ways you can support and help a loved one who is suffering from anxiety and dementia.
One of the easiest ways to help a loved one who is suffering from anxiety is to reassure them. Whether that involves staying by their side while at home, reassuring them that they are safe or removing them from an uncomfortable situation. Being physically there for that person can help introduce further feelings of calm and security.
Ensure they are comfortable
Often, anxiety can be triggered by an unfamiliar situation, a new environment, overstimulation or a feeling of lack of control. If you are with a loved one and sense they are becoming anxious, consider what you can do to alleviate it. Ensure they are as comfortable as possible and provide words of reassurance. If they are becoming agitated in their own home, it may simply be that they are too hot, too cold, or hungry or thirsty. Relax, reassure, and redirect their attention; it will help for your loved one to feel in control and aware of their surroundings.
Establishing a routine
A daily routine should never be underestimated. In terms of providing a sense of control, familiarity and balance, a routine can help your loved one manage their anxiety as they become familiar with their day to day activities. This can relax any fears they have from unexpected events or disturbances, managing their surroundings, stimulus and activities in a way that is comfortable for them.
Providing comforting stimulation
By providing comforting stimulation, it can help ease your loved one’s agitation by refocusing their mind on a particular task that can both stimulate and relax them. They will become less focused on their fears and more focused on the task in hand. If they are in a familiar and comfortable environment, this will assist in calming them down and helping them to feel relaxed.
Below are some things you can try:
- Take them for a walk
- Play their favourite music
- Engage them in a simple game
- Read to them
- Make them something
- Do some gentle exercise
As well as the aforementioned ideas, you can also opt for a more traditional route, and consider one of the following:
- Occupational therapy
- Social Workers
- Live in care
Medical professionals and psychology professionals will also be able to provide insight, reassurance and a number of proven practices to at least reduce the symptoms or triggers for anxiety. Depending on your approach, this may cost money or may not.
-- to www.walesonline.co.uk