Get a good nights sleep

Sleep problems are often dismissed by caregivers for two common, misguided reasons, says geriatric psychiatrist Ken Robbins. First, they assume that poor sleep is part of aging or of dementia, and that nothing can be done about it. Second, they fear that addressing sleep problems is “selfish,” only for their benefit.

The senior whose sleep issues are addressed will experience better mood, more energy, and less pain; sleep is closely connected with all three conditions. And the caregiver who makes his or her own sleep a priority will be better able to cope with caregiving stresses and will have more energy for every part of life.

First make sure your loved one’s basic “sleep hygiene” is in order: No stimulating beverages or activity late in the day. A quiet, dark room. Proper clothing for sleep. No TV or electronics used in the bedroom at night. Use a proper, comfortable bed, not a lounge chair.

Next, make sure your own sleep habits are similarly healthy. That 5 p.m. coffee crutch or after-dinner drink? Not a good idea.

Run a medication review with a doctor to make sure no meds are interfering with sleep. Benzodiazepines used for depression and as short-term sleep aids can actually prevent sleep, Robbins says; these include drugs such as ProSom, Restoril, Xanax, and Valium.

If you’ve done everything you can to create a healthy sleep environment, discuss sleep issues with your loved one’s doctor. A mixed-up sleep-wake cycle is not a normal part of aging. It is a feature of dementia (because brain changes can mess up circadian rhythms), but it can often be remedied by a good household routine and by addressing the person’s fears to reduce anxiety. At last resort, medications may be prescribed to improve sleep health.

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