How to get Dementia and Alzheimer’s Patients to Sleep at Night
If you’re the caregiver for someone with Alzheimer’s then you’re well acquainted with the fact that the disease can severely affect a person’s circadian rhythm. In addition, lack of sleep builds up Alzheimer’s brain plaques (beta-amyloid), which progress the disease—it’s a catch 22 of sorts. What can you do to get your dementia or Alzheimer’s patient to sleep? It may feel hopeless, but there are a few things worth trying.
Staying Active During the Day:
The worst thing an Alzheimer’s sufferer can do is nap during the day. You have to make sure they have an active routine and stick to it. Put together daily activities that the person can associate with certain times of day. Maybe they enjoy gardening; if so, make sure they go out to the garden at the same time each day. Maybe they enjoy organizational activity; try simple chores like sweeping or folding clothes to give them a sense of duty and accomplishment. Anything you can think of rather than watching TV or napping is beneficial.
The best thing an Alzheimer’s patient can do is exercise, but unfortunately due to physical conditions, exercise may not be an option for many people. I’m not talking about jogging, but anything that stimulates neuromuscular movement is important. That could be as simple as standing up and sitting down from a chair to walking consistently for fifteen minutes or more.
Doctors have found that exercise may actually slow the progression of the disease so it is beneficial beyond just alleviating sleeping problems. Exercise should be done at the beginning of the day and should be performed consistently so it becomes a part of the person’s routine. As it gets closer to nighttime, make sure the Alzheimer’s patient is winding down because too much activity near bedtime can leave them too energized to go to sleep.
Music therapy has gained acclaim in recent years and many people have seen successful results when implementing music into a person’s daily routine. According to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, “rhythmic and other well-rehearsed responses require little to no cognitive or mental processing. They are influenced by the motor center of the brain that responds directly to auditory rhythmic cues. A person’s ability to engage in music, particularly rhythm playing and singing, remains intact late into the disease process.”
When using music to influence sleep, it’s best to use new music because there will be no memories attached to it, causing the least stress or disruption. Obviously, calming and soft music work best. When you begin music therapy, it is recommended that you talk to a physician about how best to proceed because there are different recommendations for different stages of therapy.
Research has shown that prior to going to sleep, violet light promotes sleepiness. After they fall asleep, a person’s room should be free from all light during the night. Make sure their window is not near a streetlight and if it is, consider blackout shades that can be pulled up and down. Light management continues into the daytime hours as well. A person should wake up with as much natural light as possible rather than simply an alarm. Natural light resets the body’s circadian clock, making it easier to get out of bed and stay awake.
Time Medications Correctly:
Once woken up, seniors with Alzheimer’s have a tough time falling back asleep. If your loved one is in a professional care setting, make sure nurses or doctors are coordinating so your loved one is not woken up at night to take medication or have their vitals taken. If your loved one is living with you this is a little bit easier since you are in charge.
Likewise, read the side effects of all medication because some promote drowsiness while others are stimulating. Schedule all stimulating medication in the morning and drowsy medication at night. Try to avoid the use of sleeping pills because they can lead to confusion, less sleep, and even sleep walking. Sleepwalking is especially dangerous because the risk of falling increases drastically.