One of the most challenging things about caring for someone with a dementia-related disease is never really getting a good night’s sleep.
Have you ever heard the expression “Sleeping with one eye open?” Well, it isn’t easy to accomplish, but as a caregiver, you may find it necessary to do just that! I know that when I was caring for my dad with Alzheimer’s disease, my bedtime consisted of more napping than an actual night’s sleep.
I was consistently listening to see if he was moving around, worried about what chaos he might get into.
After many years of this, I naturally became a light sleeper. It took me eleven months after my father’s passing before I slept through an entire night. I found myself tossing and turning, opening my eyes every couple of hours. I was stuck in the habit of constantly being concerned about him.
Everybody needs sleep, and in dealing with the additional stress of caregiving, the human body requires even more.
It is a well-known fact that sleep is essential for maintaining good health. You can only skimp on sleep for a short period of time before significant complications start setting in. Extreme conditions will finally develop, such as weight gain, irritability, depression, and other mental health conditions.
Sleep disruptions will become more frequent when your loved one advances in their disease. For instance, they may experience sundown syndrome, also known as sundowners, making late afternoons and evenings extremely difficult. Waring everyone’s fabric bitterly thin. Fatigue may start creeping up to the point where you can barely see straight. Headaches and body pains could last for days.
If this is the case, you must start asking others for help. Call a family member, friend, or neighbor. There were times when I would call my sister so she could sit with our father, so I could just lay down and get some sleep. Knowing I didn’t have to worry about him let me get some of the soundest sleep I’d had in weeks.
When were exhausted, mistakes are easily made, and caring for someone’s health and safety, that error could be disastrous!
Serving a double dose of medication is a common problem because one is so tired that they do not remember dispensing it 15 minutes ago. The probability of getting in a car accident is also high on the list. The list is long.
Again, you must learn to ask for help. We need to put our pride aside. It will take at least two in the latter stage of dementia-related diseases. Your loved one needs you to take care of yourself as well. Unfortunately, none of this is easy. We need to do our best, and by finding someone to pitch could solve so many problems.
Gary Joseph LeBlanc, CDCS
Dementia Spotlight Foundation