By: Mary Koenig, Administrator of The Heritage Memory Life Community and board member of The Alzheimer’s Association of CNY
In June, we celebrate Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month. Though there are many types of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease is the most common, affecting over 6 million Americans. It is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States. Being a caregiver for someone with Alzheimer’s disease can be overwhelming and physically draining. Juggling assistance with daily activities and ensuring the safety of a loved one can result in neglecting the caregiver’s own health and well-being. Caregivers often experience tremendous stress, leading to physical and mental exhaustion.
Persons living with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia frequently have difficulty sleeping at night – often sleeping during the day — which means that their caregivers are not getting the rest and relaxation they need to recharge. It is critical that both caregivers and those they care for find respite at nighttime. Here are a few tips that may help everyone enjoy peaceful nights.
- Encourage Regular Exercise: Ensure your loved one engages in sufficient physical activity during the day. Additionally, short daytime naps can be permitted, but avoid extended periods of sleep to minimize interference with nighttime sleep.
- Adjust Meal Times: Serve a substantial meal at lunchtime and opt for a lighter dinner in the evening. If needed, offer a small bedtime snack. A full stomach at night can sometimes disrupt sleep.
- Utilize Light and Environment Effectively: Open shades and curtains during the day to expose your loved one to natural sunlight, which provides energy and helps establish a sense of time. Even better – get outside with your loved one and let them feel the sun on their face. If they are up for it, a daytime walk can work wonders. Play upbeat music if appropriate. The aroma of coffee or something baking in the oven can also trigger those with dementia to understand that it’s time to get up and get moving. Establish a peaceful evening routine by closing the curtains and shades as the evening approaches. Some find that relaxing music and the scent of lavender help signal that it’s time to rest.
- Encourage Stimulating Activities: Try to limit reliance on the television when possible. If your loved one is able, try simple games like word searches or name-that-tune. Easy tasks like folding towels or sorting laundry can keep your loved one engaged mentally. Bonus points for giving them a sense of purpose as well!
- Control Caffeine and Fluid Intake: Limit your loved one’s consumption of caffeinated beverages during the day and restrict fluids closer to bedtime to reduce the need for frequent trips to the bathroom during the night.
- Establish a Consistent Bedtime Routine: Encourage your loved one to go to bed at the same time each night to establish a regular sleep schedule.
- Implement Wandering Safeguards: If wandering is a concern, consider using an alarm system that will notify you if your loved one is moving around during the night. Alarmed mats placed next to the bed or attached to the bedroom door are effective options.
- Consult a Medical Professional: Discuss your loved one’s sleep issues with their medical provider. Inquire about the potential use of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep-wake cycles. Avoid over-the-counter sleep aids, as they are not recommended for older individuals with dementia.
To provide optimal care for a loved one with dementia, caregivers need to prioritize their own restful sleep. If your loved one is experiencing sleep issues, contact their medical provider or the Alzheimer’s Association for assistance and guidance. Remember, you are not alone in this journey. If you are exploring memory care options for your loved one, be sure to check out the continuum of memory care services at Loretto. May you and your loved ones have peaceful nights and restful sleep. Sweet dreams!