Sleeping Problems and Alzheimer’s Disease

Sleeping Problems and Alzheimer’s Disease

alzheimers-and-sundowningIn the middle stages of Alzheimer’s, it is common for people with the disease to experience trouble sleeping and behavioral problems during the evenings. Researchers do not know why this happens, but these problems generally subside as the disease progresses to its latter stages.[1] In this blog, we will describe what to expect during this stage of Alzheimer’s so you are better prepared to handle potentially difficult situations.

Trouble Sleeping and Sundowning

It is typical for older individuals to experience difficulty sleeping, but those with Alzheimer’s seem to be impacted more severly. Such symptoms include:

  • Difficulty staying asleep
  • Altered sleeping cycles
  • Nighttime wandering
  • Confusion
  • Restlessness
  • Disorientation and confusing dreams with reality

Disturbances in one’s sleeping schedule could compound other symptoms contributing to increased behavioral problems. Since a lack of sleep can alter one’s Circadian rhythm and the level of rest one can achieve, it may culminate in increased behavioral problems during the evening times which become difficult for a caregiver to handle. These problems are also called “sundowning” and can include increased agitation and anxiety. Confusion could worsen in dimly lit environments since your loved one with dementia could mistake shadows on the wall for other things which can frighten them. It is therefore important to provide the household conditions that will minimize these symptoms.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are certain non-drug treatments and preventative measures to try and normalize sleeping patterns.[2] For instance, if you are a family caregiver, then you can try to ensure that your loved one eats meals at regular times of the day and avoids caffeine later at night. Keeping a regular schedule of activities to perform everyday, and including sleeping in this schedule, will help your loved one stay rested. You should encourage exercise during the week and limit television to the daytime only. It is also very important to keep your loved one from lying awake in bed and to use the bed solely for sleeping. To avoid frightening your loved one at night, try to keep your house well-lit when your loved one is awake.  Lastly, make sure to be aware of items or locations in the household that can trigger negative emotions in your loved one and remove these triggers if possible.[3]

In your role as a caregiver, you will probably experience a lot of stress. If you are trying to handle the symptoms sundowning, then your sleep may be impacted, too. It is important to adhere to the above recommendations not just for your loved one’s sake but for yours, as well. Try to seek out friends, family, or a therapist to discuss difficulties you are having. Sharing your frustrations and thinking about solutions can help contribute to preserving your mental health and alleviate stress.

If you have questions, feel free to call ElderCare at Home at 888-285-0093 or visit our website to learn more!

[1] Source: http://www.alz.org/care/alzheimers-dementia-sleep-issues-sundowning.asp

[2] Source: http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_10429.asp#nondrug

[3] Source: http://www.alz.org/care/alzheimers-dementia-sleep-issues-sundowning.asp