Written by Josh Horsman
For people living with Alzheimer’s disease or any other form of Dementia, sleep can be a complex issue. The range of symptoms that come with the condition make much of daily living a challenge, but sleep is an area that is especially impacted. In fact, experts estimate that, for people with Dementia, as much as 40% of their time in bed at night is spent awake. Related issues may range from difficulty getting to sleep to disrupted and fragmented sleep patterns and drowsiness during daylight hours. A common experience for many people with Alzheimer’s, for example, is a condition known as ‘sundowning', where patients become restless or agitated in the late afternoon/evening time. All of these problems can be deeply distressing and challenging for both individuals and their caregivers and family members.
Fortunately, however, there are a range of ways in which sleep problems in people with Dementia can be treated:
There are multiple different prescription drugs which are available for the treatment of sleep problems in those with Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of Dementia.
Some examples include:
While these treatments are relatively safe and commonly prescribed by doctors, there are some concerns about the effectiveness and the side-effects associated with such medication. Research studies into sleep and Dementia have concluded that sleep medications do not significantly improve the quality of sleep in older adults, while potentially serious side-effects of such medications includes an increased likelihood of falls.
Ultimately, for these reasons, the experts at the National Institutes for Health advise against the use of drugs to treat sleep problems in people with Dementia. However, if you or a loved-one are prescribed such medication, you should always ensure that your doctor explains to you the benefits and side-effects of the drug as well as alternatives.
Alternatively, there are a range of non-medical options for improving sleep in those with Dementia. These measures serve to create the right conditions to facilitate a peaceful, regular cycle of sleep without the potentially unwanted side-effects of medication: