January 17, 2023 by Dean Bellefeuille

elderly person with dementia who is confused and restless

Wandering. Pacing. Fidgeting. When you start to note these common issues in a loved in with dementia, it is time to take action before they intensify to agitation, aggression, or leaving the house. You may soon find that pinpointing the reason that the individual is feeling uneasy is sometimes half the battle in relieving restlessness in dementia.

What can you do when a loved one with dementia is restless? Upon noticing restlessness, consider the following questions:

  • Have they been sedentary too long and need to move around?
  • Could the individual be hungry or thirsty?
  • Are there too many distractions in the room?
  • Might they have to use the bathroom?
  • Are they bored?
  • Is anything causing the person physical discomfort or pain?
  • Are there visitors who could be causing distress or anxiety?

If you are uncertain what is triggering symptoms of restlessness in dementia, try fulfilling potential physical needs first. Ask if they would like a snack or a beverage to drink. Watch for nonverbal clues which could indicate discomfort, and contact the physician right away for direction if you suspect the individual is in pain.

If the problem appears to be emotionally driven, try distracting the older adult with a soothing activity he/she enjoys, such as listening to favorite music and dancing together to channel that restless energy in a positive way that includes physical movement. Take a walk outside, if weather permits, or move into another room of the house for a change of scenery and to work on a puzzle together, read, or engage in another enjoyable activity.

The Unique Challenges of Sundowning

Sundowning occurs late in the afternoon and into the evening, causing the individual to feel particularly anxious about being in the wrong place or wanting to go “home,” even when they are already at home. If restlessness is developing during this particular time of day, it could be very hard for family caregivers, who need to be able to rest and get an adequate amount of sleep.

To help an older adult who experiences sundowning, a team approach is frequently best, allowing the primary caregiver to take the break they need during the night while making sure the older adult remains safe. Respite care can help families navigate this.

Other steps you can take include:

  • Discuss the situation with his/her neighbors; they may help you keep an eye out and respond in case the individual does find a way to wander away from home.
  • Create a tag with contact and identifying information for the individual, or purchase an identity necklace or bracelet, and make sure the individual is wearing it at all times.

Connect with At Home Independent Living at (315) 579-HOME (4663) for a thoroughly trained and experienced dementia caregiver to take the night shift, or any other shift around the clock. Our care professionals can offer memory care in Salina and surrounding areas, which would provide your loved one with the patience, creativity, and compassion they need to overcome restlessness and other common challenges associated with Alzheimer’s, while giving you peace of mind and a much healthier life balance.