Mom has Dementia. She Doesn't Sleep and Calls for Help. I Need Sleep. Help!

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Q: Mom has dementia and never sleeps. As soon as she lies down, she calls for help. What can I do? I need some sleep, too!

A: Sleep disorders are common among people with dementia, especially when awareness of time and time of day deteriorate. As the rest of the household beds down, there are fewer cues and reminders about what's going on and what to do next, which can be quite anxiety-provoking to a confused person.

In the search for reassuring stimulation, people with dementia may get up and start wandering around and head for the door (sometimes with suitcase in hand). The behavior can be difficult to change, and results in many prescriptions for sleeping pills—which often lead to other problems.

Before taking that step, it's worth trying some classic "sleep hygiene" measures. Make sure your mother gets adequate exercise during the day to ensure that she'll be tired by bedtime. To the degree possible, urge your mother to avoid sleeping during the day. Avoid heavy meals or caffeine use for several hours before bedtime. Ditto for emotionally charged discussions or upsetting television shows.

Try to establish going-to-bed routines (a set bedtime, with a ritual of undressing, washing up, etc.) and stick to them as best you can.

Despite our best efforts, however, sometimes nothing works. Many nursing homes address the issue with "night owl" services—staff members are available to assist the restless resident to a tranquil spot, and provide a cup of tea and a little quiet conversation or music to keep them occupied before suggesting that they return to bed.

Dr. Mary Languirand, PhD

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Mary A. Languirand, PhD, is in private practice in Garden City, NY, and counsels individuals, families, and health professionals in skilled nursing facilities. She co-authored (with Robert Bornstein, PhD) "When Someone You Love Needs Nursing Home, Assisted Living, or In-Home Care."

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19 Comments

I find that these articles tend to cover only the dementia patients and not the caregivers health. Chronic lack of sleep in any age group is disastrous. There needs to be better support for dementia sufferers for night time care/medication so that it does not negatively affect a caregiver who still has many years of work and life ahead of them! When weighing up the side effects of sleep aids, the health of the caregiver should also be a consideration.
Am there right now so I totally understand. My mom's neurologist suggested Melatonin prior to bed. It is a natural supplement as I didn't want anytype of sleeping pills.
I did consider Melatonin, for the same reason, unfortunately my mom has become very suspious and believe that I'm trying to kill her so she will not eat or take anything from me.