What Are the Treatment Options for Psychomotor Agitation?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 17 September 2019
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Options for managing psychomotor agitation can include medications, counseling, therapy, and the use of restraints in extreme cases. Patients with this symptom experience restlessness and unintentional movements like fidgeting, tapping, and clenching their fingers. It can appear in some people with mental illness as well as patients with cognitive impairments or brain injuries, and sometimes exposes patients to the risk of falls and injuries. Treatment may start out conservatively to see if it may be possible to stabilize the patient by these means before getting more aggressive.

One potential treatment is medication to reduce anxiety and provide some sedating effect. A number of medications can be used for this purpose, typically starting at a low dose to provide the most benefit with the lowest risk of side effects. Patients may find it easier to complete tasks when they are not restless with psychomotor agitation, especially if the symptom interferes with their fine motor skills.

Some patients benefit from counseling and companionship; people with dementia, for example, may experience psychomotor agitation because they are nervous and frightened. Sitting with the patient, checking for obvious reasons for distress like thirst, and talking may resolve the symptom. Mentally ill patients can also work with a counselor on identifying situations where stress causes them to start developing anxious movements like pacing. This can help them control their agitation more effectively.


Physical therapy can be considered for some cases of psychomotor agitation, although it is not always effective. Concentrating on tasks with a physical therapist may help relieve stress and anxiety as well as helping the patient control movement. Some patients use yoga, tai chi, dance, or other movement disciplines to work on psychomotor agitation from a more holistic perspective to address their restlessness.

In extreme cases, restraints may be necessary, especially at night. Patients who pose a risk to themselves or others may need to be temporarily restrained for protection. This is not an effective long-term solution but can provide a temporary measure for controlling psychomotor agitation until a better treatment can be identified. A patient might need a dosage adjustment to a sedating medication, for example.

This symptoms can also develop in reaction to medication. Patients without a prior history of psychomotor agitation might be screened carefully to determine if they’re experiencing a medication reaction, in which case they meed to try a different drug. Switching medications or making changes to dosing and scheduling could resolve the issue.


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