Supporting someone who is feeling anxious

A person living with dementia may feel anxious due to the pandemic. Stories about COVID-19 consumes media coverage and everyday conversations.  This can be frightening for someone living with dementia who might not be able to fully understand the situation or is unable to talk about how this makes them feel. 

A person living with dementia may also experience feelings of anxiety related to worrying about their own health or the health of others, changes in routine, and being unable to see their family members. 

If a person with dementia is anxious, carers may notice a change in their behaviour such as becoming irritable, being unusually quiet, asking for reassurance and not wanting to be alone. Anxiety can also cause unpleasant physical symptoms including shortness of breath, sweating, palpitations, stomach aches, or headaches.

If a person is experiencing anxiety try to offer support in the following ways:

  • Some people find toy animals helpful. Stroking and interacting with soft animals can be soothing and provide a person comfort.
  • Where possible support the person to keep to their routine and keep in touch with family and friends using technology and letters, cards and photographs.
  • Support the person to engage in activities that they find relaxing, this will be different for each person for example: a walk, gardening, foot soak, watching a favourite film, gentle exercise, drawing, reading/audio books, or music.
  • Try a quick, on the spot, relaxation technique for example, encourage the person to take 10 gentle, slow breaths. Doing this together can help the person to follow the breathing exercise.
  • Encourage the person to talk about how they are feeling for example, “you seem worried, are you ok?”. Smile, show patience and take the time to listen to the person. Validate how the person is feeling and offer reassurance for example, “I can understand why you feel worried. Staff are here to care and protect you”.
  • Try changing the conversation to support the person engage in an activity, for example, “Would you like to help me wipe the tables before lunch. Fish and chips are on the menu today, would you like that?” This can provide distraction from feelings of anxiety.
  • Reduce how much the person is hearing and talking about the pandemic.
  • Communicate openly and honestly with the person, taking into account their individual communication needs and understanding of the situation. There are picture cards and written information that can support discussions about Coronavirus with people living with dementia available from Australian Aphasia Association(