How to Improve Sleep for Seniors with Dementia

Seniors who are living with memory loss face a wide range of problems that affect their daily lives. One of the top issues is sleep. While we may think that a lot of our sleep issues are normal as we age – such as inability to rest, waking up in the middle of the night and not feeling well-rested in the morning – those with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia are often affected by sleep issues that are far from normal and with some preventative measures, can be helped.

According to Diane Reier, Lifestyle Specialist at Aspired Living® of Prospect Heights, a senior living community in Prospect Heights, IL., it’s crucial to get enough sleep. “Many times, for whatever reason, seniors with dementia are not getting enough sleep, in turn, neither are their caregivers,” she states. “Not getting enough sleep can cause a range of issues from deprivation and drowsiness to mood swings and an inability to concentrate. Not only does lack of sleep cause loved ones with dementia to act out, but it also causes caregivers to be less effective when caring for their loved one. This is why it’s important to recognize the common signs of dementia-related sleep issues and to learn how to combat them.”

Why Do These Changes Occur With Dementia?

The first step in treating changes caused by memory loss is to know why these sleep changes occur. According to articles by Unforgettable and the Alzheimer’s Association®, some of the most common reasons include:

  • Disorientation. According to Unforgettable, after a dream seniors with dementia are more likely to become confused because of not being able to distinguish between their dreams and reality. It’s also possible, according to the article, that seniors with dementia may have been dreaming about daytime and still believe it is daytime in real life. This can cause wandering, agitation and overall confusion.

  • Fear from Shadows. It becomes common for seniors to believe they saw something they didn’t, something that wasn’t really there when they have a memory-related illness. Most often, these figures are shadows caused by lack of lighting. Shadows are likely to cause seniors to misinterpret what they are, making them frightened and confused.

  • Sundowners. This is the most common reason that sleep is affected. When sundowning, seniors become more awake during the nighttime than they are during the daytime. Some common symptoms of sundowning include quickness to anger, agitation and restlessness. With sundowning, wandering at night can occur or your loved one may become more frightened as evening rolls around. If this occurs, talk to a doctor.

  • Exhaustion. According to the Alzheimer’s Association® end-of-day exhaustion can keep your loved one up at night or can cause a disturbance in their sleep. Exhaustion can confuse the body and make your loved one unable to relax and rest.

  • Medical Problems. Breathing disorders, depression, anxiety and restless leg syndrome are common reasons that seniors with memory loss either have trouble falling asleep or can not stay asleep. According to Unforgettable, some of these disturbances can be caused by the medications they take as well. If so, talk to a doctor to see how to manage these issues.

In order to help your loved one get the best sleep possible, try some of the following tips from Unforgettable and the Alzheimer's Association®.

How to Help Seniors with Dementia Get Better Sleep

  1. Limit daytime napping. Try to keep your loved one from napping during the day, especially if they nap and then do not rest well at night. If they are really tired and must take a nap, limit it to short periods in order to ensure a more restful night.

  2. Get exercise. If your loved one with dementia is active and engaged during the daytime, they will be less likely to want to nap. Exercising and making activity a part of your daily routine can make them healthier while also improving their sleep. According to the Alzheimer’s Association® it’s important that exercise does not occur at least four hours before bedtime because of the surge of endorphins that can keep them awake.

  3. Make sure the environment is right. It’s important that your loved one’s bedroom is well equipped with their security objects, decent lighting with minimal shadows and that the temperature is just right. Make sure their needs are met and that they are not thirsty, uncomfortable or have to use the bathroom.

  4. Identify triggers. Take time to notice if there are things that keep your loved one up and awake at night. What wakes them up the most often? Watching television before bed or receiving visits from family before bedtime can cause seniors to be more awake. Limit visitors to daytime hours as this can help your loved one nap less and can also help them to wind down better at night. It’s also important that caregivers monitor caffeine and alcohol intake, as these can make sleeping more difficult for seniors with dementia.

We Would Love to Hear from You!

If you have comments or questions about our blog, we’d love to hear from you. We also welcome you to read our recent blog articles on current caregiver and memory care topics.  

Live Well. Age Well. Be Well.

Offering Independent, Assisted Living and A Knew Day Memory Support, Aspired Living® of Prospect Heights is a distinctive senior living community designed to offer seniors residing in the Chicago Northwest Suburbs area a fresh alternative to “typical” senior living communities.

Aspired Living® of Prospect Heights provides residents with the ideal balance of personalized support, dignified privacy and enhanced independence complemented by luxurious amenities and our life-enriching, award-winning VIVA!SM programming by Pathway to Living®.

Managed by Pathway to Living®, an innovator in senior living, Aspired Living® offers the choice of a private studio or a one- or two-bedroom apartment and the beauty of a brand new community, stunningly appointed and decorated for unsurpassed comfort and style by the award-winning senior living design firm, Thoma-Holec Design, Inc.

For more information, please call Diane or Janette, Lifestyle Specialists, at 847-243-6920.

Disclaimer: The articles and tip sheets on this website are offered by Aspired Living® of Prospect Heights for general informational and educational purposes and do not constitute legal or medical advice. For legal or medical advice, please contact your attorney or physician.