Providing dementia care may mean sleepless nights for the people we look after and for us. Whether our loved ones panic about the possibility of needing to go to the ER or frequently wake up disoriented, dementia-related behavior and symptoms disturb sleep.
The Sleep and Function Interdisciplinary Group (SAFIG), Faculty of Rehabilitation and Medicine, University of Alberta, reported in 2013 that of all Canadian seniors with Alzheimer's and dementias, between 50% - 70% have trouble sleeping. According to the Alzheimer Society of Canada, there are 747,000 Canadians with dementia or cognitive impairment.
SAFIG also reported that "health care providers had little knowledge about what the risk factors for poor sleep were, what types of health conditions insomnia could make worse, and what types of assessments and non-drug intervention were research tested and available." Despite these unfavorable conclusions, researchers noted doctors wanted to learn more about dementia, sleep problems, and non-drug treatments.
You may already be helping your loved one practice good sleep hygiene, including maintaining a regular bedtime routine, restricting daytime naps, and avoiding late meals and beverages. Here are five more non-drug alternatives to consider as part of your loved one's dementia care for a better night's sleep.
Non-drug #1: Massage therapy
Massage therapy may help our love one relieve agitation, decrease confusion, and increase body awareness, helping them to relax. Human touch may also help our loved one feel less lonely.
Non-drug #2: Bright light therapy
Bright light therapy (BLT) is controlled and concentrated exposure to very bright natural or artificial light. BLT has been used to treat a variety of emotional and physical ailments, including seasonal affective disorder and skin disorders.
A study conducted by the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, and published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry found that a group of patients with dementia and prone to agitation were able to sleep more at night after bright light therapy sessions in the morning.
Non-drug #3: Passive body heat
Helping our loved one take a warm nighttime bath or placing a blanket on them an hour before bedtime may induce sleep.
A person's temperature lowers a little when they sleep. According to a 2011 report by the Department of Occupational Therapy, Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, University of Alberta, raising body temperature before bedtime speeds up the body's cool down process and makes the body feel tired.
Non-drug #4: Daytime activity
Light exercise, socializing, and doing hobbies during daylight hours promotes mental and physiological well-being. A stroll in the park, for example, can stimulate the brain, promoting a pleasant mood, and stimulate body functions like digestion during the day instead of at night.
Avoid concentrated periods of activity and prevent activities from extending into the evening hours.
Non-drug #5: Music therapy
Recent research suggests that music therapy may be beneficial for our loved ones with dementia. Reviewers with the Cochrane Collaboration compiled and examined several studies on music therapy and dementia. They concluded, "the evidence available suggests that music therapy may be beneficial in treating or managing dementia symptoms." However, more research is needed to determine if music therapy can be used to treat dementia.
Talk with your loved one's doctor about the types of sleep disturbances your loved one experiences and the symptoms you and your loved one want to treat. Whereas prescriptions may be warranted for sleeping problems, non-drug alternatives may reduce or remedy some types of disturbances and symptoms. The doctor, you, and your loved one, can discuss and devise a sleep program to complement the dementia care you provide.