How can caregivers (family members and staff at Aspen Senior Center) reduce agitated behaviors and better assist clients to feel safe and calm, to meet needs that cannot be spoken?
Research suggests 5 straightforward interventions:
1. Hearing: Reduce noise pollution by replacing loud, confusing sounds with nature sounds or white noise. Music naturally calms agitation by lifting mood and increasing socialization skills. Caregivers at Aspen Senior Center promote music therapy by providing clients with familiar selections such as Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney, Susan Boyle, Classical Piano, and Sing-Alongs.
2. Touch: Redirection and rhythmic patterns relieve pacing and rummaging behaviors. Walking in familiar places or in a circular pattern help reduce restlessness. People with dementia can be diverted when encouraged to feel various textures, such as scratchy sandpaper or a fury stuffed animal. A variety of textures, such as yarn, buttons, wood, stickers, and crepe paper can be enjoyed in Aspen’s daily art experiences.
3. Taste: Improved sleep and decreased anxiety and agitated behaviors are the result of comfort foods. Healthy snacks, such as cheese sticks, applesauce, or eggs provide not only important nutrition, but also a calming effect. Sufficient intake of water is also important. Aspen Senior Center serves delicious snacks and mid-day meal daily, including everyone’s favorite: Ice Cream!
4. Smell: Aromatherapy massage oils help to reduce anxiety, stress, and agitation. Vanilla, lavender and chamomile provide best results. Battery-powered candles can stimulate a sense of calm and are safe to use around persons with dementia. Remember to consider any allergies or irritation to scents before use. Aspen Senior Center does not use scents for these reasons, but encourages family to consider using this strategy at home.
5. Sight: Decrease visual stimuli to decrease agitated behavior. Pleasant, soothing colors, such as pastel shades of greens and blues and soft lighting produce calming effects on mood. For those with visual impairment, bright light provides safety. Visual cues, such as photo of family or red scarf hung on doorknob can reduce disorientation. Yellow signs over the restrooms and large-lettered cues are placed throughout the Center, to help clients at Aspen feel more familiar with their surroundings, independent, and safe.
~Tamara Nixon, BS, CHES
King, C. (2012). Managing agitated behaviour in older people. Nursing Older People, 24(7), 33-36.