10 Ways to Reduce Night Fright in Seniors with Dementia

Elderly man sleeping in bed

An estimated 747,000 Canadians 65 years and older have dementia or impaired cognition. After 65, the risk of developing dementia doubles every five years.

The Alzheimer Society of Canada estimates that family caregivers spent, on average, over 444 hours providing informal care for their loved ones in 2011. This figure is expected to jump to exponentially over the next 25 years. Amid these alarming trends, one thing remains constant: dementia care.

Loved ones with dementia experience a number of psychological and behavioural symptoms like trouble concentrating and unwarranted aggressiveness. Dementia symptoms not only disrupt our loved one’s livelihood, but also upset us.

As family caregivers, we may feel caught between a rock and a hard place when caring for an ageng parent or spouse with dementia. One of the more challenging dementia care ordeals is dealing with night fright.

Night fright in seniors happens when a loved one abruptly awakens in terror, panic, and bewilderment in the middle of the night. Night fright is common among seniors with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. An aging parent or spouse’s night fright may be associated with agitation, restlessness, and confusion they experienced earlier in the evening. These symptoms may be related to another common psychological condition in seniors with dementia called sundown syndrome.

Night fright may also cause unintended harm to our loved ones from waking up frightened and falling out of bed to waking up disoriented and wandering out of the house. Providing the right dementia care is essential in safeguarding our loved one’s welfare.

One of the most effective ways to safeguard your loved one is to seek the support of an experienced overnight live-in caregiver. A nighttime live-in caregiver works with you and your loved to ensure safety in the home in addition to helping them with their activities of daily living. A live-in caregiver also attends to your loved one if they wake up with night fright.

The skilled caregiver attends to your aging parent or spouse when they wake up startled and confused, helping to prevent accidents from happening in the home. A live-in caregiver comforts your loved one, giving you peace of mind so you can sleep without disruption or constant worry.

Here are 10 other tips to reduce night fright and improve dementia care at night:

  • Encourage your loved one to practice good sleep hygiene to help them sleep better at night. When possible, use the bedroom only for sleep.
  • Help your loved one take a warm bath before bedtime to help them relax.
  • Play your loved one’s favourite music before bedtime to soothe their mind.
  • Get rid of accident prone areas like flimsy rugs, unguarded stairwells, protruding furniture in walkways, and slippery floors in case your loved one wanders in the middle of the night.
  • Limit your loved one’s caffeine and alcohol intake to prevent evening jitters.
  • Plan your love one’s meals and beverages several hours before bedtime to prevent repeated trips to the toilet.
  • Remove ticking clocks from the bedroom to maintain a quiet environment.
  • Partake in morning and early afternoon outside activities and exercise with your loved one.
  • Have an panic plan in place if your loved one wakes up frightened. Practice the plan with your loved one including steps to quell their panic: turning on an easy to reach light, getting to an easy to reach phone, and dialing an easy to reach and familiar person.
  • Reassure your loved one that your or someone they know is just a phone call away.

Have additional tips to reduce night fright? Share them in the comment box.

Visit Alzheimer Society Ontario for more dementia care facts and resources.


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