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Aging Right at Home: Addressing Later-Life Sleep Problems

Aging Right @ Home is a monthly blog series, answering your questions on providing care for individuals with disabilities, loved ones with dementia and older adults aging in place. If you have a question, please submit it to [email protected].

Some changes in our sleep patterns are perfectly normal as we grow older. Aging adults tend to go to sleep earlier in the evening and wake up earlier in the morning. Also, research shows that older adults may actually need less sleep than they did in their younger years.

However, not all sleep changes seniors experience is normal. Incontinence, pain from arthritis, digestive problems and mediation side effects can all affect sleep. To help spot some issues that may need to be addressed by a doctor, here are some common conditions that a sleep specialist could help identify and address:

Sleep Apnea in Seniors

This condition causes a sleeper to stop breathing for short periods — from a few seconds to even minutes and often repeatedly throughout the night. Sleep apnea may be accompanied by loud snoring, although not always. For seniors, this can not only disrupt sleep, but it could also cause a dangerous drop in oxygen levels. A sleep specialist can help prescribe a breathing support device (such as a CPAP), a special mouthpiece or, in extreme cases, recommend surgery.

Dementia and Sleep

The brain changes of Alzheimer’s and related disorders can greatly disrupt a senior’s sleep patterns. Some people with dementia may sleep too much, while others have issues sleeping much at all. The disease disrupts the body’s natural 24-hour sleep/wake cycle, sometimes leaving a seniors’ sense of day and night reversed or fragmented. Dementia care experts can offer suggestions to improve sleep, many often as easy as behavioral routine changes.

Secondhand Sleep Problems

When a person has a sleep disorder, this can not only affect them, but it can also affect others in the home. The sleep of family caregivers is often regularly disrupted from waking to support their loved one to the bathroom or handle other middle-of-the-night needs. This is particularly the case when caring for loved ones with dementia who may experience “sundown syndrome,” where those with dementia become restless and agitated in the late afternoon and early morning during a caregivers’ core time of rest. Studies show that sleep problems are actually the No. 1 contributing factor when families decide a person with dementia should be placed in a professional care setting.

Home care can help. Professional in-home care services promote good sleep and all-around health for older adults who live at home, and trained caregivers can provide supervision while family caregivers sleep.

Here at Right at Home, our care experts work with families to support the needs of seniors and loved ones alike. Contact me today if you’d like a care consultation or if I’m able to provide any other assistance to you and your family.

Your neighbor, and Owner/President of Right at Home of Northern Virginia,

Phillip Turner, CDP, CSA

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