The science of sleep is relatively new, but we can say this—the brain is the most active part of the body during sleep. So it stands to reason that dementia, a brain disease, disrupts sleep.
Most dementia patients experience sleep disruption, and the disruption tends to get worse as the disease progresses. Sleep disruption is often a primary reason for institutionalizing a dementia patient since their caregiver needs sleep too.
In some cases, the anxiety brought on by dementia can cause people to struggle to fall asleep. In other cases, the disease itself causes the sleep issue.
People with REM Sleep Behavior disorder (RSBD) act out their vivid dreams—flailing and shouting in reaction to their dreamworld, which often involves being chased by violent people or animals. In advanced cases, the person's flailing can injure themselves or their partner. REM Sleep Behavior disorder (RSBD) is closely linked with Lewy Body dementia.
Wandering at night, a common behavior among dementia patients may be linked to circadian rhythm changes caused by the disease.
While dementia is clearly linked with sleep problems, sleep disruption is very common as people age. Among people over the age of 60, nearly half report suffering from sleep problems. The medication they take, circadian rhythm changes, and simple aches and pains can all be at fault.
All of this presents a challenge for medical professionals and caregivers because dementia patients are no different than anyone else—they need sleep to heal. Improved sleep quality can be part of the treatment for an existing mental illness.
So, sleep trouble in a dementia patient may actually present an opportunity. If sleep quality can be improved, some of the other symptoms the dementia patient is enduring may get less severe. The patient's quality of life can be improved, and loved ones can continue to manage their care.
This guide to helping seniors sleep better helps seniors and their caregivers understand how sleep problems are affecting them, and gives tips for improving sleep.