As people age, they tend to sleep more lightly than when they were younger, and often awaken during the night from achy joints or the need to go to the bathroom. Many people compensate for this lost sleep by catching a restorative nap during the day. That's normal. Daytime sleeping only becomes a problem when an elder spends the majority of the day dozing in a chair rather than engaging in life. People with dementia seem especially prone to this type of daytime sleeping, sometimes losing interest in meals and even failing to notice that they need to use the bathroom.
Boredom, depression, chronic pain and/or nutritional deficiencies can be some of the underlying causes that account for excessive daytime sleeping. Medications can also be a problem. If you want your elder to stay awake more during the day and hopefully sleep better at night you will likely need the help of the physician. A doctor can determine if depression, pain, vitamin deficiencies or medications could be at the root of this daytime sleepiness. If the doctor's determination is simply that your elder is bored, then you'll need to find ways to stimulate his or her interest in life. Often, that means some socialization through visitors, attending events at a senior center or even adult day care.
Medication Side Effects and Depression
Atypical (second generation) antipsychotics are notoriously bad for most elderly patients. If your loved one is on one of these medications, have a serious talk with their physician. There was a time when these drugs were widely used, but now they are typically prescribed for elders only when nothing else is effective.
While antidepressants can be a blessing for some people who suffer from depression, finding the right one can take time and sleepiness can be a side effect of many of them. Other common medications such as blood pressure drugs can also cause people to nod off. If your elder is sleeping too much during the day, ask the doctor to review the medications and see if there is an adjustment that can be made.
While antidepressants do have side effects that can make people drowsy, untreated depression can also be the cause of daytime sleepiness. Some doctors think that depression is highly under diagnosed in our elderly population, so having your elder checked for depression by a qualified doctor is important.
Then, there's simple boredom. As people age, they may suffer from chronic pain. They may struggle with reading or puzzles because of poor eyesight. They get tired of TV. These elders may not be clinically depressed, but with no schedule to keep and not much going on in their lives, they slide into the habit of napping most of the day.
Adult Day Care
Adult day care can be a boon for people who want to prevent an elder from sleeping during the day. Needing to adhere to a schedule such as being ready for the ADC bus can alone be very helpful. Then, once your elder has arrived at ADC, there will be professionals and peers to keep things lively. After a few hours at ADC, elders are much more apt to be tired in the evening. If ADC isn't an option for your elder, perhaps hiring someone to come in during the day to provide companionship and some day trips to a mall or park may help your elder maintain an interest in life.
Finding a Solution
Your goal is to determine why your loved one is sleeping all day. If a physician says he or she is nearing the end of life, my feeling is that it's up to the family to accept that fact and comfort their loved one, not try to provoke them into activity. However, in the many instances where medication, depression or boredom are causing the problem, medical help and scheduled entertainment may be the answer. Don't try to solve the problem alone. Ask for help from physicians, from friends and from other caregivers. By doing so, you'll at least get support in your caregiving, and you may find a workable solution.
Fortunately our caregiver's husband was available part time, had experience AND agreed to help out. That's when my father's behavior began to change. He would stay awake for longer and longer periods of time. I think it was because he had a companion who initiated activities and engaged Dad in things he liked to do. Dad liked crossword puzzles, trivia games, doing searches on the internet (Google earth takes you anywhere you want to go, and he especially likes to "go" to the town he grew up in) and looking at old pictures.