Sleep pattern changes can occur as we age with many seniors early to bed and early to rise. Research shows that older adults may need a little less sleep than they did in their younger years. This is good to know because worrying about sleep can make it harder to sleep! Right at Home, Australia's trusted home care provider explains why.
Not all sleep pattern changes are normal. Incontinence, pain from arthritis or osteoporosis, digestive problems, and the side effects of certain medications can affect sleep. Sleep problems can even be a long-term side effect of COVID-19. Managing these health conditions is important, not only to improve our sleep but to prevent lack-of-sleep-related problems like memory loss, depression, high blood pressure, irritability that affects our relationships, and a lack of alertness that can cause falls and car accidents.
Families should urge older loved ones to seek help if they are experiencing sleep problems. Their doctor may refer them to a specialist for a sleep study, which might include a portable sleep monitor at home, or could take place in a sleep laboratory.
Listed below are some common conditions that sleep specialists address:
Insomnia. Older adults with insomnia might have trouble falling asleep or they might drift off, only to wake up a few hours later, or wake many times during the night, and then feel sleepy during the day. Sleep specialists might recommend lifestyle changes such as getting more exercise, avoiding caffeine, and improving the sleep environment. Treating anxiety can help. Medications might be prescribed, though this is a last choice.
Sleep apnoea. This condition causes a sleeper to stop breathing for short periods—from a few seconds to even minutes, often repeatedly throughout the night. Sleep apnoea may be accompanied by loud snoring, but not always. It can cause a dangerous drop in a person’s oxygen level and can disrupt sleep all night, raising the risk of high blood pressure, stroke and memory loss. The sleep specialist might prescribe a constant positive airway pressure (CPAP) breathing device, or a mouthpiece that adjusts the jaw position. Sometimes surgery is recommended.
Sleep-related movement disorders. We all shift position occasionally during the night. But abnormal movements at night can disturb sleep considerably. These include restless legs syndrome, in which a sleeper experiences unpleasant sensations in the limbs resulting in the urge to shift position frequently. Periodic limb movement disorder creates repetitive movements in the limbs for long periods of time. People with sleep-related bruxism clench their jaws and grind their teeth while asleep. Treatments might include lifestyle changes, addressing underlying health conditions, or medication.
Dementia-related sleep problems. Brain changes due to Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders can disrupt an older person’s sleep patterns. Some people with dementia may sleep too much, while others have trouble sleeping at all. The disease disrupts the body’s natural 24-hour sleep and wake cycle, leaving a person’s sense of day and night reversed and fragmented. Dementia care experts can offer suggestions to improve sleep, such as changing the person’s night-time routine, diagnosing a urinary tract infection, or considering medication side effects.
Daytime napping. It’s a bit of a stereotype that older people nap frequently. Plenty of people of every age take naps, and in some cultures, it’s considered a usual daily activity. Napping can be beneficial, but can also interfere with sleep at night, so napping should also be discussing with a doctor.
Second-hand sleep problems
Sleep disorders can also affect partners and family caregivers. A snoring spouse is a classic example. Earplugs or sleeping in a different room can help.
People with dementia may exhibit “sundown syndrome”. In the late afternoon and early evening, just as the carer is most tired, their loved one becomes restless, agitated and very much awake. The person may resist going to bed, refuse to stay in bed, and get up again and again in the night, leaving the carer exhausted the next day. Studies show that sleep problems are the number one factor when families decide a person with dementia should no longer live at home, but in a care home.
Homecare can help
Professional in-home care services promote good sleep and all-around health for seniors who live at home. Trained caregivers can provide supervision while family carers sleep. Professional caregivers help clients manage medical appointments and medications, get enough exercise, and eat well. They provide mental stimulation during the day that helps clients wind down for the evening. They ensure that the home is safe for clients who get up at night.
If a loved one has dementia, it’s important to hire from an agency that trains its caregivers on memory care issues. But no matter the cause of sleep problems, professional caregivers provide peace of mind—and that might be the best ‘sleep medication’ there is!
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Founded in 1995, Right at Home offers in-home companionship and personal care, and assistance to seniors (elderly and aged care), and any adult who needs our care at home including adults living with a disability who want to continue to live independently or age in their home. Right at Home is your local expert for issues related to caring for your loved ones and is dedicated to keeping you informed about home care. With no admin or subscription fees Right at Home allows you to get more care from your package or budget.
Right at Home is a 'My Aged Care' government approved, home care provider for levels 1 – 4 and offers flexible in-home care services such as nursing care, after hospital care, post-operative care, respite care, dementia and Alzheimer's care. Right at Home also offers assistance with daily living and personal care such as grooming, hygiene, transport, shopping, meal prep, domestic services and social support, so your loved one can enjoy a more independent, vibrant life. Our nurses and caregivers are screened, highly trained, and insured prior to entering your home so you can trust us with the caregiving while you focus on your loved one.
To find out more, please give us a call on 1300 363 802 or visit our website.
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