Sometimes, when mental distress is great, as may occur with significant anxiety, depression, or mania, a person responds with a condition called psychomotor agitation. This can take many forms, but it is often easily observed. The person could keep repeating an activity that is useless: wringing the hands, tapping the foot, shaking the legs, walking around a room constantly, or starting and stopping any form of activity over and again. It as though these motions are an attempt to address underlying emotional distress, but they do not help, which may only make the agitation greater.
One of the conditions most commonly associated with these movements is a form of depression called agitated depression. The main feature of this condition can be the inability to stop moving some part of the body, though related features are that the person may suffering from recurrent and obsessive thoughts. Similarly, many believe that psychomotor agitation can be present in the hypomanic or manic phase of bipolar disorder.
Some medications may contribute to this condition. Many drugs, including many of the newer atypical antipsychotics, can cause akathisia or inner restlessness as a symptom. It is not a leap when inner becomes outer, and a person shows this through many physical expressions. These can prove not only difficult to bear, but harmful for the person who could, for instance, repeatedly scratch his skin until it bleeds. A hypomanic or manic response to the wrong medications could also result in this agitated behavior and is a strong argument for performing bipolar screening on individuals considered to have depression.
Another group of people that may suffer from psychomotor agitation are those in various stages of dementia or delirium. In fact, on the whole, this symptom is much more common in older adults, and it poses greater risk for those with limited mobility issues or a failure to understand the risks of any action taken. Special safeguards need to be in place to help those who display this condition and who are also not able to recognize a danger to themselves.
There are a number of treatments that might be proposed to address this symptom. In depression, anxiety, or mood disorders, appropriate medication for the underlying condition may greatly reduce symptoms or completely resolve them. Helping an elderly person is much more complex.
Many of the recommended medications to treat this illness fall into the class of antipsychotic drugs, and a number of these have recently been discovered to greatly elevate risk for death among older people. Other medications that do not pose this risk may be tried, but a combination of non-drug therapies might accompany this. It’s suggested that a full evaluation of the physical health, physical needs, and emotional health and needs be done when this form of agitation occurs, and it can also be useful in relieving some of the restlessness from the mind.