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.