Insomnia: The Caregiver's Role
A growing number of seniors today face the difficulty of sleep disorders, commonly referred to as insomnia. Up to 30% of the elderly experience infrequent sleep patterns, apnea (the stoppage of breath), and waking up too early.
Insomnia results in depression, constant fatigue, and even a decline in health in some people. The causes of sleep disorder are many and varied, including chronic pain and previous illness, high doses of medication, lifestyle changes, and anxiety and depression. All can play a part in triggering sleep loss and unless changed can damage your loved ones sleep cycle permanently. Caregivers usually must face a change in their own life when dealing with insomnia, and while it can be controlled, it often takes time. If your loved one has already begun sleeping less and waking up at odd hours, you may need to seek assistance from health care professionals who can assist you in the best treatment. Consider the following:
Check their medication to see if the side effects include difficulty falling asleep. You can discuss this with their doctor. Often it can be as simple as discontinuing one medication for another that does not have the same effect.
Restrict eating and drinking before they go to bed, so they do not wake up needlessly throughout the night to use the bathroom.
Make sure they get up around the same time every day so they can set a pattern to follow.
Make sure they do not drink colas or coffees that have caffeine and can keep them up at night.
Try to limit smoking to a minimum, as the effects can hamper breathing at nighttime in bed.
Take them for walks and regular exercise outings.
Instead of watching television, if they are able, you may advise them to read a book or newspaper to relax their mind.
Make sure their phone is off and their room is as dark to provide no distraction to sleep.
Remain calm and supportive if they struggle with getting up at night, and try to keep them composed.
Reduce stress levels as much as possible before they go to bed so they can have a clear mind and little to no anxiety.
Be willing to work with them and encourage them to try other methods to correct their sleeping problems.
Resist the temptation to use over the counter sleeping aids that are intended only for short-term sleeping problems and if used for any length of time, the body will build a resistance to them, causing further problems.
Seth B. Goldsmith is Professor Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences where he taught health law, health policy and other courses. He served as the CEO of Miami Jewish Home and Hospital in the late 1990s and is presently Director of Extendicare, the company that owns and operates 440 nursing homes and assisted living facilities in the U.S. and Canada. He is an author and editor of 16 books and scores of articles including several award winning books such as Choosing a Nursing Home (Prentice Hall).