• Kathryn Watson

Sleeping with Dementia


My uncle used to complain that his wife who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s was up roaming the house at all hours of the night. And at 90 years old it was wearing him out. Because when she was awake he needed to be also. Sleeping with dementia patients can be quite a challenge.

Though he had good locks on the doors she was always looking for a way out. One night she found a way and went running down the street in her night clothes screaming “rape” with my poor uncle chasing behind her. Neighbors intervened and extra locks were added.

But this wasn’t the only problem he had sleeping with dementia in the house!

“She had a voracious appetite”. Uncle George told us. In fact, she would cook cinnamon toast in the oven and sometimes polish off a full loaf. And this was a thin lady! The worry was that she would leave the oven on and could potentially catch the house on fire.

So what causes someone with dementia to stay awake like this?

Many people with Alzheimer's or dementia have disrupted circadian rhythms. And these rhythms impact different body functions. They affect sleep-wake cycles, hormone release and body temperature. And this makes sleeping with dementia hard on everyone involved.

Suddenly, the person affected is awake all or most of the night. And it will cause them to become agitated or anxious during the day. None of this is pleasant for the caregiver.

What Can Be Done To Help?

Developing a Set Routine

Whether it’s that cup of coffee and morning devotional or maybe it’s the lunchtime walk or the weekly phone call with your sister, routines keep us grounded. And it is no different for someone with dementia.

In fact, it is often even more important. While someone with dementia may not remember certain things, their body responds to routine. There is something comforting about our daily routines. For the person with dementia it may be the only bit of calm they experience amid a sea of chaos.

And a predictable routine may help a dementia patient from becoming distracted and forgetting what they were doing.

“When Pat moved to an assisted living facility she was confused and distraught. The place was large and there were a lot of new faces. Furthermore, she was expected to follow a routine that was unfamiliar to her. So, her daughter moved her to a smaller assisted living home. With only 8 people they were able to cater to her needs.

Breakfast at 9 instead of 8 fit into Pat’s routine she had at home. Furthermore, the staff made sure she had coffee and donuts or a sweet roll and the newspaper. And they allowed her to have this in her room- alone. Soon Pat was joining in on all the daily activities. As long as she had her quiet time in the morning, she was good the rest of the day.”

Pay Attention to the Lighting

According to WebMD, new research suggests that natural light or lighting that mimics natural light may help improve both the mood and sleep cycles of people with dementia.

Mariana Figueiro and her team at the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. tested her theory in nursing homes. They tested 43 nursing home residents in three states for four weeks, and 37 nursing home residents for six months.

The lighting used was designed to stimulate the body's circadian rhythm. And the thought was that nursing home residents are typically exposed to artificial light most of the day. As such this cause the disruption in their circadian rhythms. And that led to irritability and confused sleep/wake cycles

Cruel White Light?

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Elizabeth Brawley, author of Designing for Alzheimer's Disease, says "Cool-white fluorescent lamps are known by designers as 'cruel white' because this light is deficient in both the red and blue-violet areas of the lighting spectrum. Cool-white light loses its warmth and aliveness and the skin takes on a lifeless pallor." Choose bulbs with higher colour-rendering indexes (CRI) instead.

By paying attention to both routines and lighting sleeping with dementia need not be a problem for you.

In honor of our founder Pat Mack we are carrying on the tradition of caring for our residents in "The Light Heart Way"

Call_281-282-0770 to schedule a tour of Light Heart Memory Care.

And remember to have a light heart. Everything is going to be okay.