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Sleep Aids For People With Dementia

Sleep Aids in the Summer Months for the Elderly and People with Dementia

The elderly, and particularly those with dementia, can experience significant sleep challenges. It’s not unusual to end up sleeping a lot in the day and being unable to sleep at night, including frequent night-waking.

This can be challenging for both the individual with dementia who experiences disorientation and confusion in the night, but also for their carers who may be getting disturbed sleep. Here we look at different sleep aids and dementia, as well as strategies and tips to make sleep better.

It’s important to remember that as we age, we actually do still need the same amount of sleep we have needed for the rest of our adult life. It’s a common myth to think this isn’t the case. However, it’s also normal for there to be significant changes to the pattern of how and when we get that sleep, with more of it spread out during a 24 hour period.

The Impact of Poor Sleep

Sleeping difficulties can impact a sufferer’s quality of life. Disruptions to someone’s body clock can trigger or worsen depression, and affect energy levels and wellbeing.

Particularly for dementia patients, these changes to the body’s ‘clock’ can cause a problem called ‘sundowning’. This is when some of the more challenging symptoms of dementia, such as aggression or agitation, can become more prevalent in the later afternoon and evening.

A particular type of dementia, known as dementia with Lewy bodies, can cause problems with rapid eye movement sleep disorders. In fact, it isn’t uncommon for this symptom to be one of the first picked up in the condition.

Sleep Aids for Dementia Patients

Some sleep aids and dementia involve medical treatment, some are actual aids which can be used such as fans, and some are strategies which may help alleviate the problems or manage symptoms. It’s generally recommended to try the strategies and a sleep aid for dementia patients before considering medication.

You can try the following to improve sleep in the elderly and people with dementia:

  • Limit daytime napping: Daytime napping can make it more difficult to fall asleep at night. If the individual still needs to nap then limit it to late morning or early afternoon, and have it in a chair rather than the bed.
  • Keep a routine: Left to its own devices, the body clock can quickly get out of sync. Use an alarm clock and have a set waking and going to bed time.
  • Avoid caffeine: If getting to sleep is a problem, the individual should avoid caffeine in the afternoon onwards.
  • Avoid alcohol in the evening: Similarly, for the most restful sleep, avoid alcohol in the evening as it acts as a stimulant, and reduces sleep quality. Take the same approach to nicotine.
  • Keep the bedroom just for sleeping: Frequently a problem for the elderly, the bedroom becomes the room they stay in. Where possible, the individual should be coming out of their bedroom for the bulk of their daytime hours, reserving the bedroom for sleep times.
  • Get plenty of daylight: Getting a good dose of natural sunlight, particularly in the morning, can help to keep the body clock on track.
  • Get some exercise: While difficult for many elderly and dementia patients, exercise can help aid sleep. For ideas on exercise which is suitable see our article about chair exercises.
  • Make the environment relaxing: Ensure the bedroom temperature is just right, along with making sure that the bed and bedding are comfortable and appropriate for the season. Dementia patients can also benefit from security objects. Choose the right lighting if necessary, such as nightlights.
  • Reduce screen time before bed: Watching TV and using screens such as tablets before sleep can make it harder to fall asleep.

Sleep Medication for Dementia Patients

If the non-medication sleep aids haven’t made a significant impact on improving the quality of sleep then it may be worth considering medication. A consultation with the doctor will be an opportunity to discuss the options.

In the first instance it is worth considering whether the medication actually needed is a pain reliever. Any unmanaged pain may be causing or exacerbating the sleep disturbance. Similarly, depression may need treating. You should also consider whether any medications already being taken are themselves affecting the ability to sleep, and if so, perhaps taking them at a different time of day.

Summer Sleep and the Elderly

The summer months can pose some additional sleep challenges for all of us which can then be exacerbated in the elderly and those with dementia. You can try the following suggestions to improve summer time sleep:

  • Keep it cool: Keeping the bedroom cool, at around 20°C, is ideal. This may mean opening windows in early evening and keeping windows and blinds closed in the bedroom during the day. Create a through-draft where you can.
  • Keep the routine the same: Use heavy curtains or blackout blinds to block out the early morning sun and keep the sleep routine and times the same.
  • Choose the right tog cover and use layers: Choose the right covers for the season, and use layers that the individual can easily put on or remove.
  • Use a fan: The white noise from a fan can aid sleep, and of course it helps cool the air. However, take care to ensure that a dementia or elderly individual doesn’t get too cold, or disorientated as a result of the fan.
  • Have a shower or bath before bed: A tepid bath or shower before bed can help to bring the temperature down to a more bearable level for sleep.
  • Manage hay fever: Take steps to minimise the impact of hay fever as it can disrupt sleep. This may include taking medication, washing hands and clothes frequently, and keeping windows closed.
  • Have cool water on hand: Elderly people can be reluctant to drink but keeping well-hydrated will make sleep more possible and more comfortable.

By introducing a few changes, and by being strict with your routine, it is possible to alleviate some of the sleep difficulties experienced by the elderly and those with dementia. Sleep aids and dementia patients can help. If you need further help then speak to your GP.