It can be very challenging to watch a loved one suffer from dementia. A caretaker can feel very powerless over the changes that happen to a dementia patient. A big challenge can be that the patient suffering is unable to communicate what problems they are having physically, because they have lost the ability to express their needs.
According to the sleep experts at Tuck Advanced Sleeping, “Accurately diagnosing sleep disorders in dementia patients can be quite tricky, due to an abundance of underlying causes, mitigating factors and common causal symptoms”. When looking at patients with dementia, there are usually four categories that the disturbances fall within:
- Trouble falling or staying asleep (insomnia)
- Excessive daytime sleepiness (hypersomnia)
- Difficulty breathing during sleep (apnea) or excessive nighttime physical activity (such as – restless leg syndrome)
- Nocturnal hallucinations and/or behavioral problems
In addition to medications and treatment, there are steps that dementia patients can take on their own to effectively mitigate the symptoms of different sleep disorders. Tuck Advanced Sleeping shared their top 5 ways you can help improve dementia related sleep issues. These include:
- A consistent sleep schedule: In order to maintain regular circadian patterns, dementia patients should strive to fall asleep and wake up at the same time every day. Adapting to a sleeping and waking schedule may be difficult at first, so they are encouraged to set alarms and force themselves out of bed at predetermined times in order to get on a healthy track.
- Outdoor and photo light therapy: Exposure to natural sunlight will help elderly people realign their circadian rhythm and reduce the effects of sleep disorders like insomnia and CRSDs. Studies have also found that light therapy can improve sleep patterns for people with Alzheimer’s disease. If patients are unable to spend time outside, then they can utilize specialized lamps outfitted with bright lights.
- A customized diet: While a nutritious, balanced diet is essential for any healthy person, elderly people with sleep disorders can supplement their meals with foods that help them sleep. For instance, calcium (found in milk, cheese and other dairy products) is known to trigger melatonin and induce sleepiness. Oatmeal and other grains achieve the same end by raising blood sugar, which can lead to sleepiness. Alternatively, people with dementia-related sleep disorders should avoid excessive amounts of foods, drinks and substances that hinder sleepiness; these include alcohol, tobacco and caffeine.
- Physical activity: While many elderly people are unable to exercise as rigorously as their younger counterparts, even light physical activity can lead to higher levels of sleep. Patients with dementia-related sleep problems are encouraged to walk in moderate amounts during the day. Nighttime stretching can also be helpful.
- A healthy sleep space: Creating, and maintaining, a healthy sleep environment is crucial for mitigating the symptoms of dementia-related sleep issues. Beds should be reserved for sleep and sex, and patients should avoid other activities in bed, such as eating or watching television. Additionally, bedrooms should remain dark and relatively quiet during normal sleep times; keep the blinds drawn, and adjust the temperature to ensure comfort throughout the night.
To view the full Dementia and Sleep Disorders Guide, click to the Tuck Advancing Better Sleep Guide
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