Dealing with Restlessness

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What is Restlessness?

Restlessness is a common and completely normal response to isolation caused by limited change in environment. Common causes of restlessness are:

  • Extended periods of illness, or injury-related recovery
  • Seasonal changes, particularly extreme temperatures or prolonged periods of inclement weather
  • Lack of mobility and mobility assistance
  • Difficult physical or social environment around home

For individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, memory loss also plays a major role in restlessness. Lapses in memory can cloud an individual’s perception of time, leading to false understandings of their current location or the duration of their current stay. In short, dementia often leads to restlessness even if none of the causes listed above are to blame, a situation that can complicate care.


One of the most common expressions of restlessness in individuals with dementia is pacing. Pacing often comes from a place of fear, particularly concern caused by uncertainty over who you (the caretaker) are or where they are. The urge to “look for home (a safe place)” encourages movement, and – if not checked – may result in wandering, a potentially dangerous outcome if not monitored.


Managing Restlessness

  • When they want to go, even if the destination is unknown, drop everything and go with them. Often a short walk while holding hands will relieve the urge to search for safety.
  • You cannot tell them “no” – managing restlessness through further obstruction will likely lead to wandering.
  • Repeatedly remind them that they are safe and loved, and that their current location is the ‘safe place’ they are looking for.
  • Taking snacks or drinks with you can further offset the desire to wander.
  • If mobility is limited, activities such as crossword puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, blunt-tipped knitting needles and yarn, or even thumbing through a magazine can offer a temporary distraction.
    • Note: don’t worry about whether or not their current mental faculties allow them to complete a puzzle or understand a magazine – the physical action of manipulating a pen, or paper, is often enough to alleviate restlessness.

Further Tips

  • Make sure to keep the walkways in and around your home clear to avoid trip hazards.
  • Avoid leaving the television or radio on without monitoring content – loud noises, sudden changes in programming, or unfamiliar sites/sounds may cause restlessness.
  • Routines are important! Establishing a daily walk, even if just around the living room, can help establish safe zones and foster a positive relationship.

Most importantly, you must remember to always prepare for the unexpected. Even the most prepared caregiver will encounter surprises on a daily basis. Be flexible, and remember that the world looks different to those suffering from dementia.


The Broyles Foundation

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