How Agitation Treatment Guidelines Can Help You Live a Better Life?

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How Agitation Treatment Guidelines Can Help You Live a Better Life?

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Have you been diagnosed with agitation? Or are you caring for someone who has been diagnosed with the problem? You might have a lot of questions — and answers. Who is this article for? This article is a guide for those in the early stages of exploring treatment options. It provides essential information and reveals signs to look out for, but is not intended as a substitute for education.

What is Agitation?

Agitation can be defined as a state of restless excitement. In agitation, there is an excessive motor activity with no obvious purpose. In the developed world, it is most commonly seen in people who have a mental disorder such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or intellectual disability. 

While agitation may occur at any age, older adults are at higher risk of agitation due to their greater exposure to risk factors such as physical and mental illness.

It can be challenging to live with someone who has agitation. It is helpful to understand why it happens and how you can respond productively.

Levels of Agitation

  • There are three main categories (levels) of agitation. The first level is called “tension,” and it is characterized by a person feeling anxious and upset, but functioning at some level. They may have some difficulty with rational thought but are still able to complete tasks. 
  • The next category is “moderately severe agitation,” which is when a person has verbal or physical aggression (shouting, throwing things, etc.) and becomes disruptive.
  • The third category is “severe agitation” where there are significant behavioral issues that can result in harm to themselves or those around them.

Identify the root cause of your agitation

Agitation can be a symptom of many different types of mental health conditions. Some of the most common include:

  • Mental health conditions
  • Dementia
  • Brain injuries
  • Drug use, including prescribed medications and alcohol

Agitation often occurs in older adults who have dementia and other conditions that affect their ability to think clearly.

Agitation can take many forms. Among them are:

  • Fitness
  • being easily annoyed or angered
  • talking excessively
  • moving constantly

Agitation can be mild and temporary. Or it can be severe and ongoing. Severe agitation can make it difficult for you to care for yourself and get along with others. It also can cause behaviors that put you at risk of hurting yourself or someone else.

Find effective ways to manage the cause of your agitation

People sometimes get agitated (upset, frustrated, angry) for reasons that are out of their control. They may be in pain, have an illness or disability, or simply have personality traits that make them more easily agitated.

The good news is that by looking at the causes of agitation and taking action to reduce it, you will find a calmer way to live. Here are some tips:

Set yourself up for success. Plan and pace yourself so you don’t become overwhelmed or exhausted during the day. Take breaks and plan your activities to allow for things you enjoy and for rest times.

Find effective ways to manage the cause of your agitation. For example:

  • If you have an illness or disability, work with your doctor to find ways to better manage it and its symptoms. 
  • If you tend toward agitation and anger, talk with your doctor about whether medication may be helpful for you. 
  • If you feel overwhelmed by life events or situations, talk about these with someone who can help you put things in perspective and develop strategies for dealing with them effectively.

Agitation Treatment Guidelines

The Agitation Treatment Guidelines, published by the American Psychiatric Association, offer a comprehensive overview of how to treat agitation.

Agitation is defined as “sustained, elevated arousal” usually with feelings of anger and/or aggression that can be associated with many psychiatric disorders. When a person feels anxious or agitated, their body responds by increasing heart rate and blood pressure and releasing stress hormones that affect the immune system. Extreme agitation can lead to violence, including self-injury and suicide.

The guidelines provide recommendations for treating agitation caused by multiple disorders. They include depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, psychotic disorders (such as schizophrenia), dementia, substance abuse, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The first recommendation is to assess a person’s agitation level based on specific criteria as soon as possible after symptoms begin and every hour while they are being treated. 

The guidelines recommend using the Modified Overt Aggression Scale (MOAS) to assess whether a person is agitated or violent;

Agitation is a common and distressing symptom in patients with dementia. Its management can be challenging, especially when it is resistant to treatment.

Treatment for agitation

The treatment for agitation depends mainly on the underlying causes that give rise to this condition. There are various treatments available for agitation that include both medications and psychotherapy.

To help prevent and treat agitation

  • Know the person’s routine and follow it.
  • Keep daily schedules simple and predictable.
  • Keep instructions simple and positive.
  • Respect personal space.
  • Allow time for decisions and don’t rush.
  • Avoid confrontations.
  • Reassure the person when he or she feels overwhelmed by new situations or environments.
  • Use distraction techniques to redirect attention away from whatever may be causing agitation.

Medications are one option but should be considered carefully because they can have side effects. Additionally, some medications that work well for younger people don’t translate for senior adults.

Non-medical options like aromatherapy, music therapy and massage therapy can help reduce agitation and improve the quality of life in dementia patients. These therapies can be used in conjunction with each other or with medications to create a more comprehensive treatment plan that addresses the full range of symptoms your loved one experiences.


Can agitation be a sign of depression?

Agitation is a symptom of depression, but it can be a sign of other conditions as well. Agitation can be a sign that you are highly sensitive to your emotions and are prone to experiencing them intensely.

What does agitation feel like?

For some people, agitation is a feeling of restlessness and anxiety. For others, it can be a feeling of intense excitement or energy. It's different for everyone.

Is agitation and restlessness the same?

Yes, agitation and restlessness are the same. They are both characterized by a feeling of unease or anxiety.


When looking at the types of agitation medications/treatment methods, there are not many studies on their long-term success rates. What we do know is that these treatments often require long-term monitoring, adjustments, and possible changes to medications for people with this condition.

The key is finding what works best for each person and how these approaches can be incorporated into an individualized care plan. By giving patients access to techniques and methods that help them manage their unruly behaviors, they can live a more active lifestyle with less stress and upset.

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