Dementia and Sleep

Alzheimer’s disease and senile dementia are both characterized by frequent sleep disturbances.  Night wandering and confusion are common reasons the elderly are institutionalized.  Not only will the dementia affect the person suffering from the disease, but it will also have an affect on that person’s family.  People that suffer from dementia can get so turned around that they experience a reversal in their sleep-wake cycle, which causes them daytime fatigue and nighttime restlessness. They may be getting up for the day when they would have typically been going to bed for the night before the disease presented itself.  The sleep disturbances experienced often times progress as the Alzheimer’s progresses.  Ultimately, round-the-clock naps replace healthy restorative sleep for many.

Promoting good sleep can be a challenge, but sleep disturbances will begin to take a toll on both you and your loved one, so it’s a good thing to start now.  Like with anyone, avoiding caffeine and alcohol is very important if you are suffering from severe sleeplessness.  Do not forget that caffeine is in more than just your coffee; it is in soda, tea, chocolate, and the list goes on.  It is also important to stay away from alcohol because while it may help you get to sleep, it will not help you stay asleep.  Also, alcohol will help contribute to the confusion and anxiety, so if your relative must have a drink, give them a nonalcoholic beer or wine.

Try to limit the time your loved one spends sleeping during the daytime hours.  I know this can be difficult, especially if they got only a small amount of sleep the night before, but it will help in the long run.  If your loved one can’t live without a nap, be sure it is a short nap and that it is not too late in the day.  Have them take a nap on the sofa or in the reclining chair, not in their bed.

It is important to establish a bedtime routine.  Do the same things, in the same order, night after night.  Brush teeth, use the restroom, take a bath, and put on Pajamas.  Whatever the routine might be, just make sure it is relaxing, not overwhelming, and is consistent each night.  Make sure their sleeping environment is comfortable.  The room temperature is comfortable, they have a night-light, there is no outside noise coming in, etc.

Make sure your loved ones medications are being properly managed.  Some medications are better suited in the morning hours because they have a stimulating effect, while others should be taken at night due to the drowsiness they may cause.  Unfortunately, sleeping pills tend to be discouraged for people that suffer from Alzheimer’s because they can increase the confusion experienced and may cause falls.

A light box may be a good route to take as well.  Exposing your loved one to bright light in the morning may help improve their sleep cycle and advance their biological clock.

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