My husband with Alzheimer’s has started getting nighttime diaphragm spasms. Like hiccups, only not as frequent…meaning he’ll spasm every 15-20 minutes. Seems like regular hiccups come every 3-4 minutes or so.

So these spasms keep him and me awake. We try sitting up a bit, walking around, patting on the back, small sips of water, OTC gas medicine and OTC digestive medicine, massaging the diaphragm area. It seems the only thing is time. That makes it difficult to get a good nights rest. With his Alzheimer’s, he is real bad the next day (as am I), we both are walking zombies.

To add to the situation, my husband is very overly dramatic, saying it “hurts so bad”, and then in the next minute he says he’s ok. For example, l ask if he’s better sitting, standing or lying down and he can’t tell me. I try to determine what exactly he’s feeling, but it’s impossible to get a straight answer from him with his dementia.

I've read that these spasms can happen with neurological disorders, such as dementia. Any experience with this? Anything work to alleviate?

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My husband used to get severe episodes of hiccups, and yes he said they were quite painful, and obviously very annoying for both he and I, as they often would go on for an hour or more, and were quite loud. My husband had had a massive stroke at the age of 48, and later developed vascular dementia, so yes they definitely were connected to the damage in his brain.
I would try and give him teaspoons of sugar that would occasionally work, and try all the other remedies listed online. We had the best luck with the sugar, but even that didn't work every time, and we would just have to ride them out.
He even had them while he was unconscious on his death bed, and that was heartbreaking to witness, as there was nothing I could do to try and help.
I'm not sure that there are any foolproof answers to this problem, but wanted you to know that it is very common with those suffering from dementia.
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Reply to funkygrandma59
Donttestme Sep 9, 2022
Thank you for your response. We are seeing Dr next wk and will go from there. It hasn’t happened a lot, but it’s so problematic for neither of us to get any rest, I’d like to be able to know the best course of action.
My mother had these spasms when she was unconscious on her deathbed, too, like funkygrandma said in her response to you. It was heartbreaking for me to witness this for hours on end, and every time it happened, I jumped clear out of my skin. I had no idea what was going on, and just attributed these loud spasms to the death process in general. She also had very loud and violent hiccups which startled me.

I'm sorry you & DH are experiencing such a terrible thing. Have you spoken to his doctor about it? I don't imagine the doctor would have anything useful to add to what has already been mentioned by grandma or online, but you never know.

May God bless you and help you both through such a traumatic addition to what's already a difficult journey to navigate.
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Reply to lealonnie1

Time to speak with doc again. This, if occurring while laying down, could be hiatal hernia, which is indeed very painful and can feel much like heart attack, or esophageal spasming, any number of things. Could be GERD. But basically nothing to be guessed at by a Forum, rather tested for by an MD. Sure do wish you luck.
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Reply to AlvaDeer
JoAnn29 Sep 9, 2022
I did not respond to this the first time it came up but reading again, first thing that came to my mind was a hiatal hernia. My Dad suffered from one. Not sure if he was ever operated on for it. I know whats involved in an operation and I would not put someone suffering from ALZ thru it.

My Dad used a wedge to keep him elevated which helped.
I have spasms at night. It’s not fun, it’s not painful but it is super annoying. It’s like getting bothersome electric jolts spaced out by one to three seconds.

In my case, it always happens when I haven’t hydrated enough that day.

When it happens I will have a little water because I don’t want to pee all night either, applesauce does help, but the next day I get back on track with hydrating.

I’m not sure if it happens when I eat spicy food too but you may consider that.

I normally start the morning with a tumbler (16 oz) of water. Maybe you could place a good looking tumbler in front of your husband while you’re preparing breakfast.

Refill his tumbler every time he finishes all day long. Let him drink at his own unforced pace. Enjoy a glass with him. Place a fancy napkin with it. He’ll love the service/attention. Stop 2 hours before bedtime. A sip or two before bed is okay. This will help from interrupting sleep with trips to the bathroom

There may be a number of other causes but dehydration is definitely the reason for me.

Regarding drama, boy do I empathize. Sneaker shopping…my husband is a perfect 11 medium but he will want 10.5 wide to 12 quad E. I know different brands and styles fit differently but almost everything hurts. I adjust the shower and the temperature is as perfect as perfect can be but to my sweetheart it’s scalding or freezing so I tell him “Oh no, I’ll adjust it”, pretend that I have and he says it’s much better.  He tells me he has a blasting headache. I say Oh no and tell him to come to the kitchen table for a peach and with the first bite I ask how's your headache and he say it's much better. I'm vigilant, very vigilant, but as long as there aren't arms or legs, blood or an eyeball on the floor I don't jump.

There are scores of other imagined sensations that has me always on my toes to ambush preventatively any eventuality before it happens. I always have nearby, in a bag or in our car; sunglasses, an extra windbreaker (in 97 degrees weather because there may be a chance we have to walk by the freezer section of a supermarket), cold water in a thermal bag, hard candy, a wet wash cloth in a ziplock, etc.  Every slight change in sensation is magnified as with a toddler.

Luckily on the other hand, every meal is the very best he’s ever eaten, every (old time) singer is better than every other, each and every piece of music is absolutely the best, the birds never sounded better, every ugly baby, couple and dog is incredibly beautiful.  

I wish there was a free sanitarium health spa in a beautiful mountain area that steamrolled, burnt out, exasperated and bonkers caregivers were required by the government to attend for three weeks every 4 months.
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Reply to MicheleDL
Donttestme Sep 9, 2022
Oh thank you! Your experience with the overly dramatic is sooo close to my husband.

Additionally with the dementia, as I stated, it’s hard to get a straight answer. One minute he says he feels the best he has in a long time. 15 minutes later, he’ll say his foot hurts so bad and it’s been terrible for the past few weeks. So, I listen to him, however, I do more “observing” than listening. I’ll watch him…if his foot hurts, why isn’t he limping? So I just observe and then act on what I see. I just try to use a combo of common sense and what I see with my own eyes, with what he says and a grain of salt.

So much of coping with dementia is just “playing along”. Don’t even try to argue or correct or demonstrate anything. It’s just not worth the aggravation and the stress it cause the dementia person. The mind is such a complex and amazing thing. This dementia changes their reality.

I try to put myself in the dementia persons shoes.
How weird/maddening/frightening would it be for someone to correct you and argue with you when you think you are right…when your mind is playing tricks on you so realistically you’d bet your life on what you are experiencing? And yet someone is trying to convince you otherwise?

Its such a scary and frustrating disease.

Yeah…someone needs to send me to “Happy Acres”. I’d gladly go!

Im getting my husband to eat slowly and no carbonated beverages at night. He’s not big on spice so I don’t think it’s that. Also, he seems to stay pretty hydrated, so I don’t think it’s that either. I’ve read where there is a connection with diaphragm issues and neurological disorders. We do have a wedge to raise him up. We are seeing Dr for a check next wk so I will see what he thinks. It’s just when my husband is overly tired, his dementia is so much worse, literally zombie like. It’s just hard when neither of us have a rested night. It’s only happened a few times so far, so maybe the Dr can see what he thinks, but the nighttime spasms caused enough issues the following day, I’d really like to get a handle on it.

Thanks for your response.
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Ask his doctor about Flexeril: I use it for the occasional back spasm (cause is still a mystery, but I've stopped asking, "Why?") I asked for relief so I wouldn't scream in pain, in public: can't believe how fast it works.
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Reply to ConnieCaretaker

It’s the foods he’s eating. Sounds like gastric problems. Take him to get an endoscopy his thyroid checked Snd labs. The docs tell me to have my bed raised 6 inches higher overhead. This helps keep foods down. How about getting full body massages, sleeping with a heating pad. Eating healthy and not eating 3 hrs before bedtime, Exercising less caffeine. Drinks lots of water. Try plant based eating. Check out Dr. Neal Barnard and Dr. Michael Klaper and most of of Prayer check out Dr. Charles Stanley on
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Reply to Candyapple

Does his doctor have any suggestions on this issue? Good to try home remedies but always interesting to see the professionals take on it.

Wishing you both good luck and a fast resolution.
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Reply to geddyupgo
Donttestme Sep 9, 2022
Going to Dr next week, so we’ll see what he says.
I get them too. Mine happen when I am a bit dehydrated, caffeine, or acidic foods. Drinking warm water and eating a higher alkaline diet helps. A low dose of Xanax at night helps as well. Check with a gastroenterologist or family doctor for the right medication. All the best.
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Reply to DianaGearhart

Have no solution for the spasms but another suggestion.

You may already be doing this… I have found I can not give my husband choices anymore. In this case, I would have him stand then ask him if that feels better… yes or no? I would then have him sit down then ask him if that feels better…. yes or no? I would then have him lay down then ask him if that feels better… yes or no. Asking yes or no questions has helped me better understand my husband especially when he is feeling bad because his mind can no longer “analyze” choices to give an answer even when it seems simple to me. Even with this approach I have come to believe he has trouble interpreting his pain level. This sometimes results in him being dramatic when it shouldn’t hurt then being nonchalant when it normally would be very painful. Another thought is a spasm can be very painful but as soon as the muscles relax he probably does feel fine just a few minutes after complaining.
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Reply to KPWCSC

I hope that this doesn’t sound unsympathetic, but it might be worth thinking about. When you are awake in the night with him, are you actually helping? If nothing you do makes much difference, you are not doing yourself or him any favors by losing so much sleep.

Perhaps you could try sleeping in another room? When I am in trouble with pain in the night, I shift to another bed to avoid disturbing my DH. If he can't help, there is no point in keeping him awake.
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Reply to MargaretMcKen

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