What is Dementia?
Dementia is a general term (not a specific disease) that describes a group of symptoms which negatively impacts memory severe enough to interfere with daily life.
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia with 60-80% of cases, while Vascular Dementia is the second most common dementia type. Nevertheless, there are many other conditions that cause symptoms of dementia. As opposed to Alzheimer’s, some forms of dementia are reversible.
The Impact of Sleep on Alzheimer's
Sleep can be a difficult topic for people living with Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) and other forms of Dementia. The condition often has a disruptive effect on sleep patterns and quality. For patients, carer and loved-ones alike, it's important to understand how and why sleep is affected, to build understanding and ensure that care and wellbeing can be optimized. Some patients with AD may sleep significantly longer and more frequently than normal, especially in the early stages of their condition, and this can lead to disorientation when they wake up. As the disease progresses to more advanced stages, however, patients may sleep more during the day and be awake for large parts of the night. They are also less likely to sleep for long periods. Alzheimer’s interrupts the body’s ‘Circadian rhythms’, the daily cycle of sleep, wakefulness, metabolism and body temperature. Because of this, a person with Alzheimer's will often doze intermittently throughout the day, rather than sleeping for one long stint at night time. They may also become restless and more easily agitated as a result, especially late in the day. These evening episodes of agitation in Alzheimer’s patients are often referred to as ‘sundowning’.
If sleeplessness becomes a serious issue for the person, it is best to seek the advice of a doctor who can prescribe a medical treatment to ease the unwanted symptoms. However, for more mild cases, there are several things that can be done to help minimise sleep disruption for the patient.
Here are a few tips for maximising sleep for people with Alzheimer’s:
Focus on routine: Try to ensure regular times for meals and going to bed. Maximize exposure to sunlight in the morning. Avoid administering certain medications before bedtime if they could possibly interfere with sleep
Encourage the person to leave the bed if they wake up. Try to ensure that bed is only a place for sleeping. Regular daily exercise should be encouraged, but should be avoided in the evening. Caffeine, alcohol and nicotine should be avoided at all costs.