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Alzheimer’s Insights: Dementia caregivers are losing sleep

A new study by Baylor University researchers points to some sleep difficulties for caregivers of patients with dementia.  Those caregivers lose between two and a half to three and a half hours of sleep weekly because they have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep.  That sleep loss not only impacts their lives but also could affect those of the people they care for.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, caregiving for a person with dementia is akin to having a 20 plus hour a week unpaid part-time job. 

The lead author of the study is Chenlu Gao.  Gao, a doctoral candidate of psychology and neuroscience in Baylor’s College of Arts & Sciences says that “Losing 3.5 hours of sleep per week does not seem much, but caregivers often experience accumulation of sleep loss over years.” Gao adds, “Losing 3.5 hours of sleep weekly on top of all the stress, grief and sadness can have a really strong impact on caregivers’ cognition and mental and physical health.”

The difference in time and quality of sleep was significant when compared to non-caregivers in the same age range and with the recommended minimum of seven hours of sleep nightly for adults.  

Improved sleep was observed in caregivers after simple interventions, such as getting more sunlight in the morning, establishing a regular and relaxing bedtime routine and engaging in moderate physical exercise, according to study co-author Michael Scullin, Ph.D.  Scullin is the director of Baylor’s Sleep Neuroscience and Cognition Laboratory.

Scullin says, “Caregivers are some of the most inspiring and hardest-working people in the world, but sleep loss eventually accumulates to a level that diminishes one’s vigilance and multi-tasking.”

In Texas, over 390,000 people are living with Alzheimer’s disease and are cared for by approximately 1.4 million unpaid caregivers.  In 2018, this was the equivalent of 1.6 billion hours of unpaid care at a cost of approximately $20.6 billion per year.

The study, “Sleep Duration and Sleep Quality in Caregivers of Patients with Dementia,” is published in JAMA Network Open, a publication of the American Medical Association.

Call the Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 helpline at 800-272-3900 for more information.

 

The Alzheimer’s Association is the leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer’s care, support, and research. Our mission is to eliminate Alzheimer’s disease through the advancement of research, to provide and enhance care and support for all affected, and to reduce the risk of dementia through the promotion of brain health. Our vision is a world without Alzheimer’s®. For more information, visit alz.org or call the 24/7 helpline at 800-272-3900.

Scott Finley is Media Relations Manager for the Alzheimer’s Association® in Texas.  He can be reached at scfinley@alz.org