How to Help a Senior with Alzheimer’s Get a Good Night’s Sleep

How to Help a Senior with Alzheimer’s Get a Good Night’s Sleep

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!

Anxiety and Alzheimer’s: How to Help a Senior Who Is Struggling

Anxiety and Alzheimer’s: How to Help a Senior Who Is Struggling

Dear Donna:

My father was officially diagnosed with Alzheimer’s about two years ago, although we suspected something was wrong far earlier. He’s recently begun staying with my husband and me while we try to come up with a long-term solution for keeping him safe.

One new behavior we are witnessing is anxiety. Or should I call it agitation? It’s obviously difficult for him to experience and for those of us who love him to watch. Is this common among people with Alzheimer’s? What could be causing it, and how can we help him?

Your suggestions would be much appreciated!


Crystal in Grand Haven, MI

Potential Causes and Treatment for Alzheimer’s Anxiety

Dear Crystal:

Thanks for sharing this question with us. Anxiety or agitation, whichever term you choose, is common among people who have Alzheimer’s disease. It’s tough for the person with the disease to live with and for family members to witness.

Potential causes of anxiety for people who have Alzheimer’s could include:

  • Change in surroundings: Whether it’s traveling on vacation or just waiting at the doctor’s office, even a simple change in environment can trigger agitation. Since you mentioned your father recently started staying with you, he may need more time to adjust. Do you have some of his familiar belongings surrounding him at your house, such as a comforter or throw? Utilize any familiar, comforting objects you have space for.
  • Busy or noisy environment: Because people with Alzheimer’s have trouble processing multiple things at a time, a chaotic environment could stress them out. If your kids are noisy, the doorbell is ringing, and the television is on, for example, it can be overwhelming. You might be so accustomed to it that you don’t even notice. By calming the background chaos, you might help soothe your father’s anxiety.
  • Extreme tiredness: People with Alzheimer’s disease often develop sleep problems, too. They might struggle to get to sleep or stay asleep. That can leave them feeling tired. If your dad isn’t sleeping well, it might be a good idea to talk with his physician. He might have sleep apnea or another condition that could be the underlying cause of both his sleep issues and his anxiety.
  • Lack of exercise: At any stage in life, becoming too sedentary can contribute to sleep problems, fatigue, and agitation. If your father is spending most of his time sitting, taking a few walks a day might be the key to helping resolve his anxiety. If you have a secure outdoor location to spend time in, that might help too.

I hope this information is helpful, Crystal, and that you find a way to decrease your father’s anxiety.

Kind regards,


Learn More about Dementia Care

Many of the Heritage Senior Communities have specialized memory care units for people with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia. They are designed to provide a controlled, supportive environment that promotes success. Find a list of our Specialized Dementia Care Communities here, along with more information on what makes these programs so unique.

GPS Tech Products for Adults with Alzheimer’s

GPS Tech Products for Adults with Alzheimer’s

Dear Donna:

My grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease about ten months ago. We lived several hours apart, so he recently moved in with me and my family. We felt it was the best way to keep him healthy and safe.

While we are learning more about the disease and how to manage changes, one challenge is particularly worrisome. In the last few weeks, he’s started getting agitated and pacing in the evening. Researching these behaviors has me convinced my grandfather is experiencing sundowner’s syndrome. I understand it puts him at higher risk for attempting to wander from home.

I’m concerned if he does wander, we won’t be able to find him before something terrible happens. We have a home security system, but we don’t always have it on. Do you have any suggestions for what we can do to keep him safe?


Steve from Ann Arbor, Michigan

GPS Tracking for Adults with Alzheimer’s Disease

Dear Steve:
We’ve heard from others in this situation many times over the years. Wandering is a common worry as the disease progresses. In fact, Alzheimer’s Association research shows that six out of ten people with the disease will wander. Locating a senior quickly is essential.

Fortunately, technology provides seniors and their family members with a variety of solutions. A leading option is GPS tracking devices. Here are a couple to explore for your grandfather:

  • SmartSole®: This discreet GPS device is actually a trimmable insole that fits snuggly into a senior’s shoe. Once inserted, the technology in the sole can track a senior’s location if they wander away and become lost. It works by establishing circular perimeters known as geozones. If the senior exits these areas, their caregivers will receive an alert. The caregivers can also use a smartphone app to instantly check their senior loved one’s location.
  • GPS watch: Another option family caregivers find useful is a GPS watch. They are especially effective for a senior accustomed to wearing a watch, as they will be less likely to try to remove it. Many look similar to a sports watch, making them a more discreet option than a pendant. Features vary by model but the TK-STAR GPS Watch and the Tycho Real-time SOS GPS Tracker earn good reviews.

Finally, I’d also like to share a few resources that might be helpful in managing agitation and reducing the risk for wandering. 4 Common Triggers for Anger and Agitation in People with Alzheimer’s and Wandering are two articles to review.

I hope this information is useful in caring for your grandfather, Steve.

Kind regards,


Memory Care at Heritage Senior Living Communities

Families who have a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or a similar type of dementia often find the support of a specialized dementia care community to be an ideal solution. These programs keep a senior with memory loss safe while also allowing for the best quality of life. Call the Heritage Senior Living community nearest you to learn more today!

Activities to Engage a Senior with Alzheimer’s

Activities to Engage a Senior with Alzheimer’s

When a senior loved one has Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, it can be tough to keep them busy in meaningful ways. But it’s important to be persistent and keep trying. That’s because engaging in productive activities boosts self-esteem.

Adults with Alzheimer’s often feel diminished and discouraged about their inability to complete tasks they used to do independently. As their need for assistance increases, the senior may experience depression and a loss of interest in the world around them. You can help prevent or overcome that by structuring their days with productive activity.

For people with most forms of dementia, the positive feelings created by meaningful experiences linger long after memories of the activity itself are lost. If you aren’t sure how to get started planning more structured days, we have some ideas you will find useful.

Productive Activities for a Senior with Dementia

First, avoid childlike activities that may leave a senior feeling degraded. Children’s games and puzzles with bright colors and large pieces, for example, might seem like a good idea. In reality, they can actually be demeaning. Instead, offer activities and tasks that are genuinely productive.

It’s also important to focus on the process, not the outcome. By taking that approach, you can both find joy in the moment.

Here are some productive activities to help you plan a structured, weekly schedule for a senior with dementia:

  • Music: The therapeutic value of music is well-documented. Singing along to music from happy times can evoke memories long forgotten for someone with dementia. They might be from childhood, young adult days, or married life. Try to track down songs and artists your senior loved one reacts positively to and create a playlist.
  • Household chores: Contributing to the household can also help a senior feel more productive. Your family member can assist with chores that don’t require abstract thought, such as folding laundry, dusting, vacuuming, unpacking groceries, or sweeping the kitchen floor.
  • Arts and crafts: Like music, art is another form of therapy for people of all ages. Completing simple art projects together, like painting a wooden picture frame or making a garden stepping stone, is great bonding time.
  • Physical fitness: Engaging in physical activities, like chair yoga, walking, or stretching, can also leave the senior feeling accomplished. Exercise can help a senior with Alzheimer’s sleep better and be less inclined to wander.
  • Reminiscence: Going back in time can allow an adult with memory loss to revisit happier days. Pull out old family photos and reminisce as you sort through them together. You could make copies of favorites and put together a scrapbook or organize them into albums.
  • Pet care: Having an animal to love and care for can also make a senior with dementia feel needed. A dog, which needs to be fed, walked, and brushed, might be especially beneficial.
  • Gardening: Caring for a raised bed vegetable garden or container flower garden is also peaceful and productive. Just make sure the flowers aren’t toxic if consumed. It’s not uncommon for an adult with dementia to put things in their mouth to taste. Check this list of poisonous flowers before purchasing.
  • Nature: One of the most beneficial activities for people of all ages is spending time in nature. It can be as simple as bird-watching in your backyard or taking a nature hike at a local park. Most parks have accessible walking paths for those with mobility challenges. One note of caution is to invest in a GPS tracking device for the senior to wear in case you become separated.

As one of the Great Lakes region’s leading providers of specialized dementia care, Heritage Senior Communities are dedicated to helping seniors with a memory impairment enjoy productive days. We invite you to call the community nearest you to learn more about The Terrace, our dedicated dementia care units.

How Is Alzheimer’s Disease Diagnosed?

How Is Alzheimer’s Disease Diagnosed?

When you notice changes in an aging parent’s memory, you might worry it is Alzheimer’s. For many people, it’s the only symptom they are familiar with. Others, such as a change in disposition or problems managing finances, can be red flags, too. But each of these can also be warning signs of a reversible medical condition, such as a vitamin B12 deficiency or an undetected infection.

While there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s, early interventions may help slow progression of the disease. That’s why it’s important for a senior to see their physician when changes first begin to appear.

How Physicians Diagnose Alzheimer’s

People are often surprised to learn there is no single test that can diagnose Alzheimer’s disease. Instead, it is a process of identifying common symptoms of the disease and eliminating other potential causes.

If a physician suspects Alzheimer’s disease, they will usually complete the following tests to arrive at a diagnosis:

  • Family and personal medical history: Your parent’s doctor will likely ask you to share the changes that concern you, so create a list before the first appointment. The doctor will also ask questions about the senior’s medical history and personal lifestyle factors. Diet, exercise, alcohol consumption, and smoking will likely be discussed.
  • Physical examination: The physician will assess the senior’s mental and physical wellness. This usually includes checking blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, pulse, and reflexes. The doctor will assess cognitive abilities by asking the senior a series of questions or presenting them with problems to solve. They are designed to evaluate memory, judgment, attention span, reasoning, and language skills.
  • Brain imaging: Brain scans are usually conducted. They help detect if the brain is shrinking, while also looking for other potential causes of the changes you’ve noticed in your parent. An aneurysm, tumor, nerve injury, or stroke can all be detected through brain imaging. These conditions can also cause symptoms that look like Alzheimer’s.
  • Blood tests: To rule out other conditions that mimic Alzheimer’s, bloodwork will be performed. It can detect a thyroid problem, a urinary tract or other infection, or vitamin B12 deficiency.
  • Depression evaluation: Depression is another illness that causes symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s. So much so, it is often referred to as pseudodementia. The physician will usually conduct a depression screening or refer the patient to a mental health expert for an assessment.
  • Spinal tap: A process that has been used with success in European countries is collecting cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) to identify biomarkers. It’s done through a spinal tap. In 2018, the Food and Drug Administration approved it for use in this country.

Based on the results of these tests, the primary care doctor will determine if the symptoms are likely Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. If so, they may refer the patient to a neurologist for further follow-up. The tests might also identify a different medical condition that will require appropriate follow-up.

Leaders in Memory Care Services

At Heritage Senior Communities, we understand how difficult it can be to meet the needs of a loved one with memory impairments at home. Whether it’s Alzheimer’s disease or a different type of dementia, safety and quality of life are issues families worry about.

That’s why many of our assisted living centers have a dedicated unit focused on memory care called The Terrace. We invite you to call The Terrace program nearest you with questions about memory care or to schedule an in-person or virtual tour.