Have you ever noticed how anxiety gets in the way of expressing yourself fluently? Ever sat in an interview and frozen to the point you knew you were talking nonsense and could do a thing about it? You want to say something really important and you clam up, freeze. Words don't come. Mind numbing silence fills your head. Several minutes later when you are calm the words flow easily and fluently. And you beat yourself up for being so frozen.
Anxiety causes our verbal brain centers to cease working efficiently and makes us look unintelligent and unprepared. But neither of these things may be the case.
For a person with dementia, anxiety is a constant threatening companion. It threatens to cause the person with dementia to make mistakes, to forget, to go blank. Then the negative self-talk begins or if it is not in the form of words it is in the shape of shame, that painful feeling we get when we have done something we are embarrassed by. Anxiety can cause this experience in a person with dementia just as it can in anyone.
How do you act when you are ashamed and embarrassed? Withdraw, deny it happened, blame others deflecting attention. All of the above perhaps.
People with dementia become anxious very quickly and over things that you and I may not think are important. When this happens, watch for the shift in mood and communication. Perhaps they are out socially and the demands of the situation become too much and are overwhelming and frustrating. They begin to feel ashamed that they can’t cope with it, self-blaming and angry or withdrawn. They may not be able to put this into words so they may rely on you to connect the dots for them and take supportive action like getting them out of there to a quieter place or simply going for a walk.
Reading the play is vital in caring for someone with dementia. Seeing anxiety ahead of time as a possible threat in many situations can save them from an experience of shame and frustration, and you from a disrupting and frustrating experience.