I received a great question from a reader, and I think that a lot of people have struggled with the same thing: getting their loved ones with dementia on a normal sleep cycle. Here’s Eva’s question:
My 96-year-old mother-in-law has some form of dementia, and my sister-in-law is her daily caregiver who lives with her. I am worried that neither one of them is getting a good sleep, because my mother-in-law seems to go to sleep and wake up at all kinds of hours in the day or night. Sometimes she’s up all night and day. I would like to help with some suggestions on how to get her on some kind of regular sleep pattern. Have you any suggestions?”
First thing’s first: what is your mother-in-law’s day like? If I were you, I would set up a daily schedule. For example, at my community, we have meals at 8 AM, 12 PM, and 5 PM every day, on the dot. We make sure that all of our residents are up and dressed for these meals. We also make sure our residents get some exercise and are exposed to plenty of light in between meal times. There have been researchers that suggest that exposure to light (even through a window or well-lit indoor room) during the day really helps a person sleep at night.
What is her bedroom like? Make sure that she’s using her bed ONLY for sleep and not just for watching TV or lounging. You want that bed to be associated with sleep, not with general relaxing. There should also be some natural light coming in, and the temperature in the room needs to be comfortable. What color is the room? Is it a neutral or warm, soothing tone? Or is it a bright, active color? Discourage napping during the day (a little napping outside of the bedroom is okay) and find some activities that she’d enjoy instead. My Pinterest has a bunch of crafting ideas and another good site, MindStart, has puzzles and games.
It would also be great to set up a bathing routine, maybe right before she wakes up or right before she goes to sleep. Another routine you could look into is a “before bed” schedule. What does she do before she goes to sleep?
I would also ask her doctor about her medications. There could be something that she’s taking, or the time of day that she’s taking it, that could really affect her ability to stay awake or asleep.
Rachael Wonderlin has a Master’s in Gerontology and is a Dementia Program Manager with Brookdale Senior Living. She has her own blog, Dementia By Day, where she shares stories and tips about dementia care.
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