Managing Restlessness

Patient & Family Teaching Sheet

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What is restlessness?

  • An inability to rest, relax or concentrate
  • Extreme restlessness is sometimes called agitation
  • A condition that occurs in nearly half of all patients during the last 48 hours of life

What are signs of restlessness?

  • Muscle twitching
  • Moving around without a known reason
  • Pulling at sheets, covers, or clothing
  • Trying to get out of bed for no known reason
  • Fidgeting
  • Sleeplessness
  • Inability to get comfortable
  • Grimacing

What to report to the care team?

  • Any of the signs or behaviors listed above
  • Inability to administer medications by the prescribed method
  • Things that make the restlessness worse, for example: loud music
  • Things that make the restlessness better, for example: soft music
  • Concerns that you may have as a caregiver to cope
  • Need for spiritual support
  • Situations that might be unsafe

What can be done for restlessness?

The team will try to find the reason for the restlessness and talk with you about treatments.

Things you can do:

    • Administer prescribed medications as ordered
    • Offer frequent reassurance
    • Offer relaxation activities, for example: playing soothing music
    • Keep things calm; for example: decrease the number of visitors
    • Read favorite stories, poems, etc., in a calm voice
    • Hold the person’s hand, give them a gentle massage
    • Keep the person safe; for example: do not leave the person alone while restless and frequently check when calm
    • Understand that restlessness may be a sign that the patient is close to death – let other family members know what is happening.