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Anxiety can affect people living with dementia, just like it can affect any of us. When the person is anxious, you might notice they:

  • become restless, pace or fidget
  • do the same things over and over
  • cling to someone when that person tries to leave
  • closely follow or “shadow” someone.

These feelings of fear, unease or agitation can increase if they’re not treated.

Causes of anxiety

Finding out what is triggering their anxiety can help you to reduce it and make it happen less often. While everyone is different, common causes of anxious thoughts and feelings in people with dementia include:

  • trouble understanding what’s happening around them
  • worrying about a person or situation from their past
  • worrying about their ability to cope with everyday tasks, or finding tasks too hard
  • tension or negative mood in the people around them
  • grief: even they don’t know exactly what’s happening, they may still recognise something is wrong.

Anxiety can also be a symptom of depression. Talk to the person’s doctor if you believe they are feeling depressed.

What you can do

If your family member or friend is feeling anxious, you can support them by:

  • providing reassurance and comfort
  • calmly and gently talking to them about what might be triggering the anxiety
  • giving the person something to fiddle with, like coins or treasured possessions, to distract them.

Over the longer term, you can try to prevent or manage the person’s anxiety by:

  • arranging a doctor’s appointment to check whether physical illness, depression or medication might be causing the anxiety
  • noticing which activities trigger their anxiety
  • talking about stressful situations and activities in advance, to help them feel safe and reassured
  • making sure they’re getting enough exercise
  • checking their caffeine intake and making the switch to non-caffeinated drinks.

Dementia Expert Webinar

The impact of childhood trauma on a person living with dementia, with Monica Cations

Dementia expert webinar: the impact of childhood trauma on a person living with dementia, with Monica Cations

It’s okay to take care of your own health and happiness. If you're struggling as someone who cares for a person with dementia, contact the free, confidential National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500, any time of the day or night, for information, advice and support.

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Last updated
15 December 2023