No matter what the age, relationship or needs, caregiving is an often stressful, at times rewarding, many times frustrating, almost always exhausting experience. But if the person you’re caring for isn’t able to sleep well at night, then the job of caregiving during the day is that much harder as both of you try to function on less sleep.
In many cases, people with Alzheimer’s or dementia have tremendous difficulty sleeping through the night, which is why it’s regularly referred to as the 36-hour day. This presents a challenge for memory care community providers too.
An article recently posted in the Senior Housing Forum, The Nighttime Challenge, caught my eye. One memory care community had found a solution for this issue, and I wondered if their example would offer ideas that at-home caregivers could try.
Seeking an approach that balanced the need for privacy (staff did not want to disrupt already restless sleepers by opening doors to check on them) and safety (most memory care facilities require rounds every two hours, but much can happen in between those scheduled checks), Anthem Memory Care decided to implement what’s called the Vigil Dementia system, which the article says is based on “a series of motion detectors that feed resident activity data to a central processor that automatically compares the resident behavior with their expected behavior and notifies staff when a resident behaves in unexpected ways [for example: agitation, staying too long in the bathroom -- or depending on resident’s capability, going into the bathroom unattended, wandering and falling out of bed].”
I’m not by any means suggesting that caregivers buy the system for their home. The decisions that care providers in a community setting have to make are different from those of family caregivers. But the point about behaviors is an important one when it comes to the caregiver finding ways to rest. If you can figure out the triggers, the reasons the individual is having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, you may be able to find solutions to match accordingly.
Here are a few additional tips on how to rest when and where you can as a caregiver:
- The use of a simple motion detector (you can buy them at places like Home Depot, Target, or Radio Shack) could make a big difference. If the biggest concern is falling out of bed, perhaps install a motion detector near the bed to alert you regarding a middle-of-the-night incident. If your concern is the individual leaving the house, motion sensors by any doors leading outside might allow you to rest, knowing that you’ll be alerted to attempted exits.
- Take notes about behaviors, routines, patterns. Find out what time of the day the individual seems the most tired. Try to adjust routines to encourage sleep during those times, even if it’s at 8:30 in the morning. Notice your own patterns too. When are you most sleepy or stressed? What keeps you from resting? Circadian rhythms may have something to do with it too.
- If the person you’re caring for rests during the day, try and do the same. Maybe you can’t fall asleep, but at least sit down, put your feet up, and relax your body. Sounds like the rule for new mothers: sleep when the little one sleeps…
- Above all, remember that no system or solution is foolproof or without a margin of error. When you need sleep and can’t seem to find a way to get it, reach out for help. (Sometimes, that may be the best solution.)