Helping a Senior with Dementia Overcome Sleep Problems

December 30, 2019

If you are caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s, sleep issues might be adding to the challenge of the role. These tips can help you both sleep better.

If you talk with a spouse or adult child who is caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s, there’s no doubt they’ll list sleep as one of their greatest caregiving challenges. People with the disease can seem to survive on very little sleep for extended periods of time. This may result in a pace that is exhausting for caregivers.

While pharmacological sleep solutions are available, most are used only as a last resort. Because seniors with Alzheimer’s react differently to medication than their peers without dementia, physicians are sometimes reluctant to prescribe them.

Fortunately, there are steps loved ones can take that may help overcome sleep disorders caused by Alzheimer’s disease.

Helping a Senior with Alzheimer’s Sleep Well

First, take time to learn more about what might be causing a senior’s sleep problems. Researchers have a few ideas on why sleep can be so elusive for people with Alzheimer’s. Some of these reasons are:

  • Overstimulation: Because Alzheimer’s causes damage to the brain, people who have the disease may struggle to process overly hectic or noisy surroundings. Overstimulation, especially in the late afternoon or evening, might be the reason a senior with Alzheimer’s is having difficulty getting to sleep.
  • Sundowner’s Syndrome: Sundowning is common among adults with Alzheimer’s. As many as 20 percent of people with the disease will experience it. The condition causes restlessness and increased confusion as the sun begins to set. People with Alzheimer’s who are affected by sundowning are more likely to wander during this time of day. It can wreak havoc on a senior’s (and their caregiver’s!) sleep schedule.
  • Increased agitation and anxiety: People who have Alzheimer’s typically experience increased levels of agitation and anxiety. Researchers attribute this to changes in the brain caused by the disease. These heightened emotions can make it difficult to unwind and enjoy a good night’s sleep.
  • Problems with sleep-wake cycles: Research also seems to indicate that adults who have Alzheimer’s undergo changes in their sleep-wake cycle. In the early stages of the disease, a senior may wake up frequently throughout the night. They might get up and wander. As the disease progresses, they may get their days and nights mixed up, causing them to sleep soundly all day and be awake all night long.
  • Medication problems: Like anyone else, people with Alzheimer’s might be taking medications that lead to sleep problems. Anti-depressants and steroids can cause insomnia in some people. Decongestants can cause drowsiness that might disrupt traditional sleep schedules.

Then move on to understanding what interventions you can take to help your loved one—and yourself—get a good night of sleep.

10 Ways to Help a Senior with Alzheimer’s Sleep

Here are 10 steps you can take to help your senior loved one with Alzheimer’s disease overcome sleep problems:

  1. Have a structured daily schedule that restricts stimulating activities to early morning hours.
  2. Review the senior’s prescription and over-the-counter medication list with their physician or pharmacist to identify potential side effects or interactions.
  3. Schedule a physical examination with their primary care physician to see if there is an undiagnosed health problem that might be causing pain.
  4. Avoid caffeine and other stimulants that might make sleep difficult.
  5. Limit fluid intake during evening hours so the senior doesn’t wake up during the night needing the bathroom.
  6. Turn off the television in the evening and play soft, soothing music before bedtime to help the senior unwind.
  7. Stick with a consistent bedtime and morning wake-up time.
  8. Discourage naps late in the day or early in the evening.
  9. Exercise early every morning to avoid overstimulation at night.
  10. Create a restful sleep environment for the senior that includes blackout curtains, a comfortable mattress, a cool temperature, and soft music playing with a sleep timer.

Legacy Memory Care

If you are struggling to keep a senior loved one with Alzheimer’s healthy and safe at home, it might be time to consider a move to a memory care community. At Legacy communities, our memory care program is known as The Harbor. It’s designed to be a refuge from the storms associated with memory disorders.

Call us today to schedule a private tour of The Harbor memory care program nearest you.