Sleep Problems in the Elderly with Dementia and How to Help

If it appears as though a senior loved one with Alzheimer’s has totally rewritten the rules on when and how to sleep, you’re not dreaming. For reasons that aren’t yet entirely understood, sleep problems in the elderly with dementia are due to changes in their circadian rhythm, bringing about drowsy days and sleepless nights.

The advancement of the disease is one contributing factor. Damage to brain cells causes increased weakness, making everyday tasks and activities exhausting. Medication side effects from regularly-prescribed dementia treatments can further exacerbate the problem.

Why a Good Night’s Sleep Is Crucial for a Loved One with Dementia

Decreased sleep quality in dementia may lead to an increase in delusions and restlessness, and can result in serious safety concerns, such as the potential for a senior to wander away and become lost or injured. Not just that, but an older adult who is sleepy during the day may also be less inclined to take part in healthy activities, for example, spending time outdoors and exercising.

And, for a very busy family caregiver who also needs sleep at night, it is typically quite a challenge to fulfill every one of the person’s care needs throughout the night and during the day as well.

How You Can Help

Try these tips for a person whose sleep patterns are disrupted:

  • Talk to the doctor for a review of medications. Modifying the dosage timing each day can be all it will take to help make a difference.
  • Stick to a routine, waking up and going to bed at the same time every day, limiting naps, caffeine, and heavy meals later in the day.
  • Include bedtime activities which are relaxing, such as a warm bath, turning off the television and playing quiet, calming music, or reading.
  • If wandering is a concern, a wireless bed exit pad can notify you as soon as the senior gets up so that you can assist.
  • Try placing a clock that differentiates between daytime and nighttime near the senior’s bed.

You might want to encourage an older adult to try sleeping on their side instead of the back or stomach as well. Recent reports revealed a potential link between side sleeping and much more effective clearing of brain waste, such as excess beta-amyloid. Keep in mind that this study was conducted on laboratory animals and it’s not clear yet if the results carry over to humans.

Seniorcorp is available to help as well, with overnight caregivers who are awake and alert, taking care of the older adult’s needs throughout the night so you can get the rest you need. Our care team members are fully trained and experienced in creative, patient approaches to taking care of the unique care needs of those with Alzheimer’s. Email or give Seniorcorp a call at 757-640-0557 for more information about our companion care in Chesapeake and nearby areas.