Does Alzheimer's cause insomnia?

5 answers | Last updated: Sep 12, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

Our Mum just can't sleep. She is awake almost 24 hours a day! Sounds strange, but its true. She is quite weak, but can walk from her bedroom to the toilet and back. So she goes to the toilet about every half to one hour. Sometimes as much as every 10-15 mins. She does NOT have a urinary tract infection.

At night she wants to wake up and have tea and a snack. Then when we give her something, she says she is not hungry, or sits and has to be helped to eat. She can eat with a fork, but her eyesight is terrible and we have to help her. Its like she just want to pass the time. Then its the toilet, and bed, and tuck in, and in no time, its a repeat performance.

She does not like to be helped by non family members and keeps calling only for a certain family member constantly. She is burned out, as we all are.

Does ANYONE have similar problems or any advice for this situation please? Thanks in advance

Expert Answers

Brenda Avadian, brings knowledge, hope, and joy to family caregivers for loved ones with Alzheimer's and dementia. She cared for her father with Alzheimer's and helps families one-on-one and in groups. She is the author of eight books, including the pioneering memoir "Where's my shoes?" My Father's Walk through Alzheimer's and the Finding the JOY in Alzheimer's series. She presents vivid, compelling, and funny keynotes to both professional and family caregiving audiences.

Alzheimer's may not cause insomnia as much as the disease causes disturbances in sleep patterns.

As the disease progresses, our loved ones find it more difficult to tell the difference between day and night. Unlike you or me, your mum cannot make the distinction of night time from the light of day and what the former means"‚ÄĚtime to get some sleep. Additionally, the disease itself wreaks havoc on her brain upsetting any semblance of normalcy. Finally, she may be afraid at night. A night nurse might keep her company by simply sitting in her room initially and gently massaging her.

We can guess at what's happening, but first, make an appointment with her doctor (counselor?) to evaluate the dosage and balance among her current medications. Our bodies constantly change and with these changes the tolerance for medications.

After that, you may explore with her doctor the option of taking sleeping aids maybe once or twice a week. These may further exacerbate her Alzheimer's are only intended to give her some rest as well as rest for that family member your mum keeps asking for. Another option is melatonin (chemical our bodies produce while sleeping) to ensure she feels rested since she's not likely producing melatonin on her own if she's constantly getting up.

Sleep disturbances due to Alzheimer's are a challenge not only for our loved ones but for caregivers. Consult her doctor to rule out any medicinal and dosing issues before proceeding with the other options above.

Community Answers

Ann cason answered...

I am touched by the tenderness with which you ask this question. This is one of the most difficult issues that caregivers go through. Also, it is one that brings many of us to our knees. Sometimes it seems as if even with the best of intentions to take care, our body still has its needs. We need sleep and more.

In addition to all of the excellent suggestions above, I will share some ideas. But mostly, this question should go to all of the family caregivers on this list who are willing to share. The methods I suggest can be a fair amount of work. They are not must do, but ways that I have learned from caregivers and caregiving over the years.

Dementia often dissolves the names of things except for a few bare bones wants. An old man may call out for a caregiver. "Bob, Bob come and help me." It doesn't matter if it is a man or a woman everyone is Bob. Your mother may have lost the distinction between things and, being weak, she is in a fog which is a lonely state where she can't remember that she was just helped. But she remembers what comforts her: a little routine much like one she might have had as a small child: needing to pee, little snack, getting tucked in. Her world is very small and basic now. Can you find ways to comfort her in the day time that might cause her to relax so that you and she could rest at night?

  • Does your mother get up and dressed in the morning, say by 11 o'clock?
  • Does she have breakfast, lunch and supper? It could be small tea snack, but presented as a meal.
  • Try a late afternoon routine of tea and cookies or a soft drink. Make it like a little celebration.
  • Try to get her out onto the front porch or looking out a window in the late afternoon. Even with poor eyesight and confusion, she might enjoy seeing people return from work or children playing after school. (Whatever your neighborhood provides)
  • After supper, sit with her, listen to music, read a small story, say a verse, or walk around together. Do what is comfortable and familiar for your family.
  • Start a bedtime routine of getting her undressed, into night clothes, and try rubbing lotion on her hands almost like a hand massage. If she would let you, lotion on legs is also soothing.
  • Develop a routine to give her bedtime medication. A sleep aide taken with warm milk could be very helpful. Soft music might help as it takes a sleeping pill at least 30 minutes to work.
  • Also, consider that your mother might be tense from pain that she cannot tell you about. People with dementia often endure pain which is experienced as tension. Pain medication, appropriately administered can release tension and bring comfort and ease and healing sleep.
  • Also, you could ask the doctor if your mother might be an appropriate candidate for hospice or palliative care. Their nurses are experts in bringing comfort for the patient and the family at this stage of life. Even if your mother is not yet ready for this stage of life, a consultation could help.

Alwaysawake answered...

Thank you for your answers Brenda Avadian and Ann Cason.
Ann - thank you for stating that the question was asked with tenderness. It was. We love our Mum. Most of the suggestions you have made are being followed. Melatonin did not work unfortunately, as it gave her awful and scary dreams and almost hallucinations.
We have found that she likes to put coins in the piggy bank lately, so that keeps her happy for a bit. She likes to take turns doing it.

2kind answered...

I can tell you I take care of a 93 year old Alzheimer's patient. She has insomnia, I have found that all Alzheimer's patients are so different. they say it depends a lot on your personality traits before the "devils disease" attacks...

Karen lorenzo answered...

I am so sorry to hear about your mom's condition, it may be heartbreaking to all of you who cares for her. In line with your question, people with Alzheimer's often have trouble sleeping, not necessarily insomnia but the confusion with time and place may play a big role why she is always awake, another symptom is repetitive speech or actions. This symptom may explain why your mother keeps on going to the bathroom every now and then. After all, Alzheimer not only affects a person's memory but behavior and thinking as well.

It would be advisable to seek the help of a doctor to check if she is already in the advance stage of the disease. If she only asks the help of family members, and you are willing to be her personal caregiver, there are lots of caregiver support organization that can provide you with professional advice. Or you may opt to hire a caregiver who have specific training in management of people with Alz. If you see other activities from your mom that you think is not normal, you can check this comprehensive infographics with detailed information on the signs and symptoms of the disease: