Helping people with dementia-related sleep problems

Helping people with dementia-related sleep problems

Did you know that as many as 40-70% of people with dementia have sleep problems?

There are a number of things that people with dementia experience that contribute to sleep problems such as pain, thirst, infections, medications, and environmental noise at night. See also, our infographic on symptoms to watch for in dementia patients.

As caregivers, it’s important for us to know how to help dementia patients sleep, since poor sleep can contribute to:

  • Increased memory problems
  • Confusion
  • Agitation
  • Hallucinations
  • Early nursing home placement
  • Sleeping during the day and being awake at night
  • Caregiver burnout and sleep deprivation

There are many easy, safe, non-medication strategies that individuals and family caregivers can safely use at home to help dementia patients sleep. Here are a few suggestions that you, as a caregiver, can use with the dementia person in your care:

  • Avoid daytime napping.
  • Encourage exercise and activity during the day, like walking and familiar activities.
  • Increase exposure to daylight for the person in your care. Have them go outside or stay near a bright window. You may need a special light during the winter months if the home is dark or you are unable to get them outside. Use this light for 20 minutes at least twice daily.
  • Create a quiet atmosphere at night. Have them close their eyes and listen for small noises.
  • Use body warming techniques for 30 minutes to one hour before they go to bed. Have them try a warm bath or shower, warm clothes or a hot water bottle. The cooling down period helps to promote sleep.
  • Have the person in your care use the bathroom before bed. Make sure the toilet is easy to get to and well lit at night. If the person in your care has bladder leakage problems see our article.
  • Talk to an occupational therapist about solutions for dementia patients with sleeping problems – they can help.
  • Have the person you’re caring for dress in proper bedtime clothes and remove any daytime clothing. This decreases clues to get dressed if the person wakes up during the night.
  • Have your doctor or pharmacist review all medications and the times they are taken.
  • Create a sleep diary to understand how much sleep the person in your care is getting. We all  need 6-8 hours of sleep each day. Share this sleep diary information with the doctor and/or health care provider.
  • Safety locks, dementia wandering alarms, and motion detectors or monitors can also help ease caregivers’ concerns if wandering is a problem.
  • Register with your local police vulnerable person registry, a free service to help police quickly identify and return lost or wandering persons to their caregiver. Also consider Safely Home™, a nationwide program developed by the Alzheimer Society of Canada in partnership with the MedicAlert Foundation Canada.

The University of Alberta has developed strategies for helping people living with dementia get more sleep. Visit their sleep dementia resources website for more information.

 

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