Why do dementia patients fidget and fix things in the middle of the night?

A fellow caregiver asked...

"WHY," Especially in "Middle of the Night," do many Dementia patients "Fidget and Fix" Things? (i.e. 'fidgeting especially with sheets, blankets, materials, etc....)?? They do this for long periods and I would like to know WHY so that I can better understand. Awaiting your response and.. "T.Y."

Expert Answer

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.

People with moderate dementia need to feel useful and purposeful like we do; so, you may observe them fidgeting and fixing things. Other times, they will pace and try to go "home."

Typically, the reasons they "fidget and fix things" or pace and wander is because they need a purpose or feel lost.

This is why we recommend activities during the day to keep them involved and to tire them, so they experience less Sundowner's (agitation in the late afternoon). With activities during the day, they'll likely sleep better at night.

Safe activities include drying dishes, folding laundry, or sorting coins, to help them feel they're making a contribution. One former caregiver and friend diagnosed with dementia after her husband's passing was a "literary genius" in today's world. Raised with the old tradition of memorizing poems (which she could still recite) and with strict rules of grammar and punctuation, she could still read. I'd eMail articles to her, which her caregiver would print. I would call her the following day and she would give me her edits via telephone. She felt so happy that she could help, she even thought about tutoring college students. Others can still sing or play a musical instrument. Imagine live entertainment. What a delight!

Since it's a challenge for one family caregiver to occupy a loved one all day and everyday, adult day care services provide a good respite where the loved one can go and be active with others for a change of pace. If there's resistance, the staff is able to work with the family to role play a "work setting," being on a "cruise," at "church," "volunteering," or any other setting.

We all need to feel useful and appreciated in this world. Cognitively impaired people with dementia are just like us--let's give them a purpose by helping them feel useful.