Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Alzheimer’s And Sleep

If you are the caregiver of someone with Alzheimer's, you may have noticed a change in their sleeping habits. Is this normal?

People often assume that as we get older, we need less sleep. This is true for many people, but not for everyone. Even in old age everyone has their own sleeping pattern which suits them best.

The sleep needs of an Alzheimer’s disease sufferer may or may not change, but what often happens is that their sleep cycle becomes reversed. In other words, they may sleep all day and be wide awake at night.

This isn’t a problem in itself – though it can be very distressing, and tiring for their caregivers. Especially if they become disruptive and noisy by moving around in the main living areas acting as though it is daytime.

It’s very tempting to use medication to help the Alzheimer’s disease sufferer sleep at night. Though eventually it may become necessary, sedatives can often exacerbate their confused mental state, which then makes the person more difficult to care for. It is a vicious cycle.

A small glass of their favorite alcoholic beverage is often a good idea, or perhaps a warm drink – though urinary incontinence may need to be considered when giving them a night-time drink.

It is much more appropriate to keep the Alzheimer’s sufferer awake as long as possible during the day (though it is often tempting to let them sleep for long periods, as this gives the caregiver some time to do chores, have a few minutes to themselves, or even take a nap.

Make sure it isn’t another problem that is causing the restless nights. This could include incontinence, night cramps, or joint pain. Sometimes simply giving the patient two paracetamol just before bedtime can alleviate these problems, so it’s worth checking out.

Keeping the Alzheimer’s sufferer gently active during the day is a good way of helping them to re-establish a sleeping pattern that allows them to settle again at night.

If this proves to be unworkable, many people use night sitting services. These can be very useful as the Alzheimer’s sufferer is able to wander about closely supervised, and the caregiver is able to have a few nights of undisturbed sleep.

Even if a service like this is only be used for one or two nights a week, it allows the caregiver to get some quality sleep. And a well-slept caregiver is more likely to give good care.