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Senior Woman with Hat May 3, 2024

Sleep Issues in Dementia Long-term Care

By: Country Meadows | Memory Care

Sleep issues are common as we age. A third of US adults report that they usually get fewer than the recommended 7 hours or more of sleep a night, according to the CDC. However, people with Alzheimer’s disease often experience more frequent and more severe sleep disturbances. This can be challenging for people in dementia long-term care and their caregivers.

“For reasons that are not entirely understood, people living with dementia often experience disrupted sleep during the night and/or a reversal of day/night patterns wherein the person sleeps mostly during the day and is up throughout the night,” explains Joel Kroft, Executive Director, Memory Support Services for Country Meadows Retirement Communities. “These changes in sleep can cause irritability, refusal of care and a decrease in daily quality of life. None of us perform at our best when we are tired!”

Typical sleep challenges for people with dementia

Getting to sleep and staying asleep can be challenging for people in dementia long-term care. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, experts estimate that individuals in late stages of Alzheimer’s spend about 40 percent of their time in bed at night awake and a significant part of the daytime sleeping. Instead of sleeping, they may wander, be unable to lie still or yell or call out, disrupting the sleep of others.

Sundowning may also occur. During the late afternoon or evening, many people with dementia experience increased restlessness or agitation, sometimes even hallucinations. Sundowning may also interfere with being able to sleep well at night.

REM sleep behavior disorder is a common first sign of Lewy body dementia. People with this disorder act out their dreams while they are asleep. This can include jumping, shouting, punching, kicking, thrashing and other dangerous or disruptive actions.

Additionally, people with dementia often have sleep challenges unrelated to their dementia, such as restless legs disorder, sleep apnea or depression, that need to be treated separately.

Sleep strategies in dementia long-term care

Caregivers in dementia long-term care often employ non-drug strategies to help residents with dementia sleep better. Medications may be used to treat pain to ease sleeping issues, but sleep-inducing medications are often avoided in dementia long-term care.

Kroft explains, “While there are medications that can help restore normal sleep patterns, they all come with potential side effects, so it is best to try non-drug strategies first. Some strategies to try include creating a strong routine of meals and bedtime that help create a pattern the person living with dementia can follow. Also, exposure to morning sunshine can help reset the brains daily rhythm of awake and sleep time. Finally, providing a day of engaging activities, including physical activity, will hopefully help with falling asleep after a busy day and staying asleep till morning, benefitting both the person living with dementia and their caregiver.”

A calming environment in dementia long-term care can ease discomfort making it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep, too. Recommendations include using the bed only for sleeping, keeping the bedroom at a comfortable temperature and providing a sense of security with nightlights and comfort objects.

Expert memory care in Pennsylvania and Maryland

Country Meadows Retirement Communities offers personalized memory support in secure neighborhood locations in Pennsylvania and Frederick, Md. As a leader in memory care, we employ the latest technology, such as the innovative Tover Table, and proven techniques, such as the Validation Method, to provide assistance and emotional support for residents and their families with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia.

Have a question about memory care? Each of our communities has a team of local experts ready to help. Call our friendly co-workers to learn more or to schedule a tour today!


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