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Alzheimer’s Insights: Longer days ahead can affect different aspects of our physical and psychological health

Scott Finley

We will turn our clocks forward this coming weekend, officially at two a.m. on Sunday, March 14.  Of course, no one does it at that precise time.   The general practice is just to move clocks ahead an hour when you go to sleep Saturday night, and don’t forget the clock in your vehicle!

For most of us, the net result is losing an hour of sleep and in general running a bit behind as we get used to the time change.  It will probably be dark when you wake up, and that’s the price we pay for an extra hour of daylight at the end of the day.

Sleep pattern changes – like those we experience during Daylight Savings Time – have been shown to affect different aspects of our physical and psychological health.

New research is published regularly on sleep-related dementia risk factors, including:

  • Sleep apnea may cause Alzheimer’s-related masses to build up in your brain and increase your risk for memory problems.
  • Regular healthy sleep may help your brain clean itself of dementia-causing lesions.
  • More frequent use of sleep medications may be associated with higher risk of dementia.
  • Research suggests that poor sleep habits in mid- and late-life may increase the risk for developing dementia.

Sleep disturbances are common among people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias, including changes in sleep schedule and restlessness/wandering during the night. It has been reported that up to 45% of people with dementia may have sleep problems. Many people with Alzheimer’s wake up more often and stay awake longer during the night. Those who cannot sleep may wander, be unable to lie still, or yell or call out, disrupting the sleep of their caregivers. Experts estimate that in late stages of Alzheimer’s, individuals spend about 40% of their time in bed at night awake and a significant part of their daytime sleeping. This makes their lives more stressful and exhausting, but there are effective ways for caretakers to manage sleep issues.

  • Make a comfortable and safe sleep environment. The person’s sleeping area should be at a comfortable temperature. Provide nightlights and other ways to keep the person safe, such as appropriate door and window locks. Door sensors and motion detectors can be used to alert family members when a person is wandering.
  • Maintain a schedule. As much as possible, encourage the person with dementia to adhere to a regular routine of meals, waking up and going to bed. This will allow for more restful sleep at night.
  • Avoid stimulants. Reduce or avoid alcohol, caffeine and nicotine, which can all affect ability to sleep. Discourage watching television during periods of wakefulness at night, as it can be stimulating.
  • Plan more active days. A person who rests most of the day is likely to be awake at night. Discourage afternoon napping and plan more challenging activities such as doctor appointments, trips and bathing in the morning or early afternoon. Encourage regular daily exercise, but no later than four hours before bedtime.
  • Be mindful of your own mental and physical exhaustion. If you are feeling stressed by the late afternoon, the person may pick up on it and become agitated or confused. Try to get plenty of rest at night so you have more energy during the day.

If the person is awake and upset:

  • Approach him or her in a calm manner.
  • Find out if there is something he or she needs.
  • Gently remind him or her of the time.
  • Avoid arguing.
  • Offer reassurance that everything is all right.
  • Don’t use physical restraint. If the person needs to pace, allow this to continue under your supervision.

 

Meanwhile, you can always get the latest information about the Association’s COVID-19 emergency preparedness guidelines for Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers in long-term or community-based care settings here:

https://alz.org/professionals/professional-providers/coronavirus-covid-19-tips-for-dementia-caregivers

The Alzheimer’s Association leads the way to end Alzheimer’s and all other dementia – by accelerating global research, driving risk reduction and early detection, and maximizing quality care and support. Our vision is a world without Alzheimer’s and all other dementia. Visit alz.org or call 800.272.3900.

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