Overstimulation, Agitation, and Restlessness

Overstimulation is commonly seen as a general response to too much going on around the person with severe brain injury (sounds, lights, requests). Motor restlessness is when the person with severe brain injury is in constant motion even without being asked to move or perform a task (as able). Motor restlessness can also mean a need is not being met. For example, your loved one’s body language may be their way of showing you that there is a problem like pain, the need for a quiet and & calm environment, or poor positioning and the “body language” is showing you there may be a problem. When overstimulation and restlessness are seen together and not addressed, they it can lead to agitation, putting the person with severe brain injury and/or their caregiver in unsafe situations.

What causes agitation and restlessness?

  • Pain
  • Unmet basic needs – positioning, personal care
  • Environmental issues
  • Too much noise from TVs and radios
  • Too many requests at one time from caregivers
  • Room temperature is too hot
  • Too many lights are turned on
  • Response to a particular request or procedure that is disliked (i.e., hygiene)

What are signs of agitation in people with severe brain injury?

  • Moaning or crying out
  • Eyes closed and head turned away to avoid stimuli
  • Pinching, biting, or grabbing at caregivers
  • Kicking and/or thrashing in bed
  • Motor restless activity more than usual patterns – repetitive, ongoing movements

What can be done to reduce overstimulation?

Low Stimulation Guidelines
From Craig Hospital
Tips and suggestions for family, friends, and staff to reduce overstimulation. Please talk to your team members for more specific suggestions to implement with your family member.

Agitation and Restlessness - Managing Behavior Problems During Brain Injury Rehabilitation
From BrainLine
What to do when a person with brain injury is demonstrating signs of agitation and restlessness.