Taking a Closer Look at Sleep in the Elderly

Posted on

Aug 05, 2021

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Sleep Awareness Week, March 14-20, highlights new findings and research to help those battling a variety of sleep disorders. As youve likely experienced within your community, studies show that older adults arecommonlyaffected by difficulties and interruptions in their nightly sleep. The most frequently reported issues are:

Having trouble falling asleep
Sleeping fewer hours
Waking frequently in the night or early morning
Difficulty getting quality sleep

Disrupted or restless sleep can lead to greater health concerns for seniors including increased risk for falling, daytime fatigue, and even cognitive impairments.
Sleep disorders in the elderly generally fall into two categories: Primary sleep disorders and sleep issues caused by other medical conditions. A primary sleep disorder means there isnt another medical or psychiatric cause that creates the sleep issue.
Primary sleep disorders
Common primary sleep disorders in older adults can be:

Insomnia or difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or restless sleep
Sleep apnea or brief interruptions in breathing during sleep
Restless leg syndromean overwhelming need to move your legs during sleep
Periodic limb movement disorder, or involuntary movement of the limbs during sleep
Circadian rhythm sleep disorders or a disrupted sleep-wake cycle
REM behavior disorder or the vivid acting out of dreams during sleep

Insomnia is both a symptom and disorder. Conditions like depression, anxiety, and dementia can also increase risk for sleep disorders, especially insomnia. However, there are many other medical conditions that can cause sleep disruptions.

Medical Conditions That May Disrupt Sleep:

Parkinsons Disease
Alzheimers Disease
Chronic pain such as arthritis pain
Cardiovascular Disease
Neurological conditions
Gastrointestinal conditions
Lung or respiratory conditions
Poor bladder control

Many older adults are also on medications that can disrupt sleep. Antidepressants, H2 blockers and adrenergic drugs are leading causes of interrupted sleep or difficulty in maintaining consistent restful sleep for weeks at a time. Of course, outside of a controlled medical or care environment, substances like caffeine, alcohol, and smoking may also contribute to sleep problems.

Managing sleep issues in seniors
In contrast to most younger people, many older people report having troublemaintaininga good nights rest, but not so much falling asleep. These ongoing sleep disorders can lead to larger concerns like depression and risk of falling. Most studies conclude that behavioral therapies for better sleep are preferable to medications, which can have unwanted side effects. This means developing good sleeping habits through sleep education, stimulus control, and time in bed restrictions. Changes can take up to six weeks or more.
If behavior therapies dont work, then a doctor may prescribe medication or other treatments. However, the medical community advises that sleep medication isnt a long-term solution. The best therapies and strategies for your sleepless residents include:

Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day
Using the bed only for sleep, not other activities like reading or watching TV
Doing quiet activities, like reading, before bed
Avoiding bright lights before bed
Keeping a soothing and comfortable bedroom environment
Avoiding naps

A study about managing sleep disorders in older adults also suggests limiting liquid before bed, avoiding caffeine and alcohol, eating three to four hours before bedtime, and exercising regularly (but not right before bedtime).
Getting an adequate amount of quality sleep is important to maintaining the health of your residents. Further information and ideas for helping those in your care can be found on theCenters for Disease Control and Prevention website.
Oasis Senior Advisors refers older adults to communities like yours that will meet their care needs, budget and geographical preferences every day. To learn more about how a partnership with your local Oasis advisor can benefit your community, call us at (888) 455-5838.

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