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Everything You Need to Know About Dementia and Sleep Challenges

Everything You need to know about Dementia and Sleep Challenges

Key Summary

Seniors often struggle to get a good night's sleep, and dementia can exacerbate this problem. Learn why dementia patients often don’t sleep well and how to tackle sleeplessness.

As we get older, rising from a deep, restful sleep “at the crack of noon” becomes a distant memory of our youth, for almost everyone. In fact, sleep almost invariably becomes a challenge as years pass. We learn over time that those 1960s-era TV reruns and all-night radio shows are there for a reason. Put any group of seniors together and ask what things they miss about their youth, and the joy of uninterrupted sleep will probably pop up at the top of their lists. Dementia often adds to the symptoms, and a staff familiar with related complications is essential to a comfortable life with the best care possible.

In this article, we will cover the ins and outs of dementia and sleep disturbances, including why it happens, common types of sleep issues, how to address challenges, and more.

Why Dementia Patients Do Not Sleep

Seniors often experience challenges achieving a full night of sleep simply due to physiological changes. Thankfully, these can often be minimized by addressing them via tried-and-true regimens. Some may call for prescription medicines but others don’t and can be solved with lifestyle changes. For example, bad sleep hygiene can contribute to accelerated symptoms of everything from general fatigue to dementia. However, there are certain reasons why dementia patients do not sleep or at least do not sleep well:

  • Changes in brain activity disrupt circadian rhythms.
  • Sleep structure changes are impacted.
  • Individuals suffer from diagnosed sleep disorders.

What is the Best Sleep Aid for Dementia Patients?

There are many ways to address lack-of-sleep issues, and tackling these challenges has become its own medical specialty. Proper diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders can improve the quality of life and safety of elderly people and their families. Additionally, as seniors enter the new surroundings of a senior care community, the experience and guidance of staff are invaluable assets. Memory Care communities offer services and amenities that help patients with these specific challenged. Find out how they compare to different care types available to seniors.

Understanding Sleep Problems by Disorder

Common types of sleep disorders vary and each require specific medications, remedies, or mitigations:

  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea is probably the most common sleep disorder that causes someone to repeatedly stop and start breathing while attempting to sleep.
  • Central Sleep Apnea is where breathing is disrupted regularly during sleep because of the way the brain functions.
  • Insomnia is a sleep disorder that causes difficulties falling and/or staying asleep.
  • Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder that affects the control of sleep and wakefulness.
  • Non-24-Hour Sleep-Wake Disorder (N24SWD) is often found in blind people where a shift in the time for sleep will often completely flip their schedule.

In addition to sleep disorders, vascular dementia is found to disrupt the normal sleeping and waking cycles of individuals who fall among the various stages. Vascular dementia sleep talking is one of the symptoms often noted, in addition to consistent waking, as well as concerning behaviors like wandering.

Sleep Medication for Dementia Patients

Without question, sleep disorders require the care of a specialized physician, as well as continuing care and maintenance either in-home or in any type of senior living community. There are also other factors that may impact whether someone requires medication. In many cases, medical professionals will recommend non-drug solutions, as certain drugs can increase risks like insomnia or falls for adults with dementia.

In cases where sleep issues are accompanied by related concerns and medications, and other forms of treatment are prescribed, they may include:

  • Melatonin
  • Antipsychotics
  • Antidepressants
  • Other prescription medicines

These types of medications may or may not be prescribed based on risk, and a medical professional could prescribe a discontinuation of them once regular sleep begins.

How Do You Get a Dementia Patient to Sleep Through the Night?

In seniors with dementia where sleeplessness symptoms (or underlying symptoms) aren’t as pronounced, the first line of defense is often a non-drug approach. “Home remedies” might sound trite in a world of structured treatments, but still hold validity, especially when treating early-stage symptoms. Advice ranging from no intake of caffeinated beverages after mid-afternoon might just be enough to address mild sleep disorders. Movement and exercise throughout the day can often assist, as well. Other basic sleep hygiene advice might sound rudimentary but can always improve the overall mission of achieving the best possible surroundings that are conducive to good rest.

Here’s a good list of ideas to start:

  • Maintain a regular sleep routine.
  • Avoid too many daytime naps—even though they’re often amazing!
  • If you’re awake, don't stay in bed for more than 5-10 minutes.
  • Try to avoid reading, using the computer and watching TV in bed.
  • Drink caffeinated drinks with caution.
  • Avoid inappropriate substances that interfere with sleep.
  • Get plenty of clean fresh air intake.
  • Set up a quiet, comfortable bedroom.

Where these measures (and others that are specific to a person’s needs) are taken, sleep challenges in dementia patients can often subside.

How Can I Help My Elderly Loved One Sleep Through the Night?

The senior care communities we work with go to great lengths to help create the proper surroundings and meet best practices for optimal sleep. Additionally, there are multiple resources and organizations dedicated to helping everyone, but especially seniors, sleep better. Work by the Alzheimer’s Association with dementia patients is particularly noteworthy. Other organizations, such as the Association of Mature American Citizens and the American Association of Retired Persons, as well as the Dementia Society, also address various sleep issues.

By utilizing professional guidance and resources, it becomes easier for seniors and their loved ones to understand best practices for quality sleep.

Sleep is often only one challenge that families need to face as seniors age. We have a number of other resources on topics of interest. View our next article “What are the Differences in POA, MED POA, Guardianship, Living Will, and Will” to learn more about important financial and legal decisions.

Find Senior Care Near You

If you are seeking assistance with understanding sleep challenges or simply need some support with everyday living, there are Referah communities throughout the United States that are here to help. Talk with our professional counselors today about the needs of you or your loved one and we will be happy to provide you with guidance. Friendly, inviting communities are available!

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