2 ladies sitting quietly

Try the following mindfulness exercise for calming an agitated and confused elder.

Many older adults with dementia and confusion become agitated, fearful, and tearful. Often, it’s because their thinking gets stuck-in-a-rut. They get caught up in a looping story in their head. Try using this mindfulness tip to redirect and calm. Help them get out of their head and into the present. 

Emotional states

Our emotional state is caused by many factors. A reaction to external things that happen to us. Or the body experiencing illness, pain, and fatigue.  

Mostly though our emotions stem from not being present. Our brain gets caught up in a river of swirling thoughts. You flow along willy-nilly with the story in your head. Pretty soon you’re angry, mad, fearful, and upset for no apparent reason.

It’s even more so for a confused older adult. Their thoughts often fall into a rut. They’ll perseverate on certain ideas and get caught up in the emotion caused by their thinking – the story looping around in their head.

So, if you’re with someone who’s confused and agitated, it’s important to try to redirect them. Get their awareness focused on something else besides the rut their thinking has fallen into. Try bringing them into the here and now.

Because I guarantee...

you will not argue them out of their thinking and emotions. Nor will you get them to “see” reality.

Emotions are Contagious

So, you must first release your own judgment and emotions. Let go of any attitude of control.

Be present. Find your own state of calm and peace because the biggest emotion in the room wins.

 Read what research says: Emotions are Contagious


Take time to just sit with your person. Smile. Validate them. Use empathy.

Relax. Breathe slowly and deeply. Invite them to breathe deeply along with you.


Try this simple mindfulness exercise to help manage emotions by focusing on the present:

  1. Choose an object in the room and focus on observing it for a minute.
  2. Don’t do anything except look at it as if you are seeing it for the first time.
  3. Explore every aspect of it. Truly study it.

For example:

“Mom, I just noticed this vase of flowers. Look at the brilliant red of the blooms. I also see dark green leaves and lighter greens tucked in. In fact, I see 4 different shades of green. And look at how the yellow really pops out against the green. How about you? What do you notice?”

If your person is visually impaired, try it with sounds you notice. Birds twittering, neighborhood kids playing, a vacuum running, etc.

Or with touch. Tap your fingers on your palm. Notice how it feels. Tap your fingers together. Clap them. Loud. Now soft. Feel the silky binding on the blanket. Or the edges of crinkled up paper.

Go from Experiencing Mode to Observing Mode

What this exercise does is allow a person to separate themselves from their feelings and move from an experiencing mode into an observing mode.

It’s essential for remaining calm and in the present.


A confused person can’t always distinguish real from unreal. So, if your person keeps getting on an emotional merry-go-round, pay attention to possible triggers.

A big culprit is the TV - a program, movie, or the news. Many older adults listen to the news non-stop which isn’t good for anyone’s mental and emotional health!

You might also check for any underlying chronic pain issues. Or note if conversations with certain people will set them off.

Final thought

Mindfulness is all about being present. Here in the moment. Try this exercise for yourself or to help someone else. Let me know if it helps you or a loved one feel calmer. Tell me about your experience.

- Thich Nhat Hanh

“Only this moment is life.”

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