Are sleeping pills effective for Alzheimer's patients?

1 answer | Last updated: Sep 30, 2016
Bold asked...

I have been told that sleeping pills are not effective for Alzheimer sufferer's - is this true? I gave my dad one last night hoping to get him to sleep all night and not make numerous trips to the toilet. He wears disposable pants but cannot/will not just wee in them. He insists on going to the toilet. He clearly does wee as they are wet, but is not aware of it.

Expert Answers

Jytte Lokvig, PhD, coaches families and professional caregivers and designs life-enrichment programs and activities for patients with Alzheimer's disease and related dementia. Her workshops and seminars help caregivers and families create a healthy environment based on dignity and humor. She is the author of Alzheimer's A to Z: A Quick-Reference Guide.

Sleep medications do work for some people with Alzheimer's, but these medications may also have serious side effects and unfortunately reactions are unpredictable in individuals with dementia. One medication may work for a while and when the effect wears off, you're forced to switch to another. Because of the dementia, a medication may suddenly have the opposite of the intended effect.

You're very fortunate that your father still uses the toilet by himself. It's understandable that it's a mixed blessing because your own sleep is frequently disrupted when he uses the toilet during the night. Since your father is sleeping through the night except to get up to use the toilet, you might consider other ways to deal with these interruptions.

Try all the following:

"¢ No liquids within 4 hours of bedtime.

"¢ Right before he goes to bed, have him use the bathroom to empty his bladder.

"¢ Equip his bed with an alarm that alerts you when he starts to get up. There are also alarms that detect a damp brief. (Unfortunately there are no alarms to warn you ahead of time.) Use your favorite search engine or go to

Hopefully these tips will help you and your dad sleep through the night and you'll only need to use sleep medication as a very last resort. If you're taking the steps above and he still gets up several times during the night, there may be other factors to look at: he may have an enlarged prostate or he could have a low-grade infection (UTI). There's probably not much you can do about the prostate because of his Alzheimer's and his age. On the other hand, he may have a urinary tract infection, especially if his frequent urination is a recent occurrence and it happens during the day as well. Ironically, plenty of liquids is the best way to maintain the health of his bladder and urinary tract. However, you'll want to stick to water or watered down fruit juice and avoid coffee and regular tea, which are diuretics (herbal tea is fine.) A rule of thumb: you'll need to replenish the body by drinking two cups of water for every one cup of tea or coffee.

Generally, the fewer medications, the better. Let's face it: if a drug is powerful enough to work, it's changing something in our bodies and we always run the risk of reactions and interactions.