Alzheimer’s caregivers must learn to handle a variety of challenges. The disease creates worrying behaviors such as wandering and eating issues. One caregivers often cite is how long their senior family member can go without sleep. It can be exhausting for caregivers.
While medications may help, doctors often consider them a last resort. Prescribing medications for people with Alzheimer’s can be difficult because they process medications differently than their peers without the disease.
Fortunately, there are other options to try to help your family member with Alzheimer’s enjoy a better night’s rest.
Identifying Potential Causes of Sleep Issues
While researchers don’t know what causes Alzheimer’s, they have a few ideas why people with this disease often experience sleep disorders. Some likely causes are:
- Sundowner’s syndrome: As many as 20 percent of people with Alzheimer’s experience this condition. It causes restlessness and confusion as the sun begins to set. People are more likely to pace and wander from home during this time. It wreaks havoc on the senior’s and their caregiver’s sleep schedules.
- Overstimulation: Because of the physical damage Alzheimer’s causes to the brain, seniors with the disease may have difficulty processing an overly hectic or noisy environment. Overstimulation, especially in the afternoon or evening, might cause difficulty getting to or staying asleep.
- Agitation and anxiety: Alzheimer’s often increases agitation and anxiety. Researchers attribute this to changes in the brain caused by the disease. Both of these emotions can make it difficult to relax and get a good night’s rest.
- Disruption in sleep-wake cycle: Another possibility is that seniors who have Alzheimer’s undergo changes in their sleep-wake cycle. Research shows that in the early stages of the disease, a senior may wake up frequently throughout the night. When they do, they may get up and wander. As the disease progresses, the senior might get their days and nights mixed up. It causes them to sleep all day and be awake all night.
- Medication problems: Some medications can cause sleeplessness or interactions that increase anxiety. Antidepressants and steroids are two examples. Ask your senior loved one’s primary care physician or pharmacist to review their medication list if you have any doubts.
Once you’ve had the chance to explore a few potential causes for a loved one’s sleep problems, the next step is to find ways to overcome them.
Ways to Help a Senior with Alzheimer’s Sleep Better
Here are a few steps you can take to help a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease overcome sleep disturbances:
- Create a structured daily schedule where errands and exercise occur in the morning, and the afternoon and evening aren’t as busy. Also make sure to stick with a consistent bedtime and morning wake-up time.
- Schedule a physical with the senior’s primary care doctor to see if there is a medical issue that may be causing pain. People with Alzheimer’s disease can have difficulty expressing discomfort.
- Avoid serving foods and beverages with caffeine, especially later in the day, as they can make sleep difficult.
- Limit the amount of fluid the senior consumes later in the day so they won’t have to use the bathroom during the night.
- Turn off the television, which can be overstimulating, in the evening. Instead, play soft, soothing music to help the senior unwind.
- Create a dark, quiet environment for sleeping and a get comfortable mattress. It might also help to have soft music playing on a sleep timer.
Memory Care at Heritage Senior Communities
At Heritage Senior Communities, our specialized dementia care program is known as The Terrace. From person-centered care to healthy meals and snacks, it is designed to allow people with dementia to live their best quality of life. Call the Heritage community nearest you to learn more today!