|Hospital bed and visitor's cot|
Photo by Pam Stephan
I've been Dad's caregiver for seven years now and as his memory loss progresses, he needs to see a familiar face whenever he is awake (no matter what time it is!)
If Dad wakes up at 3 a.m. and gets dressed, starts to walk to the back door to take his dog outside, I'm the one that can persuade him to go back to dreamland for a while. I will go to his room with him, help him settle in, and perhaps take his little dog on my lap. Toto doesn't mean to, but sometime she wakes him up. Then I try to get some sleep. I call it sleeping, but in reality, I almost never clock out from this job.
Beds are best to sleep in but, I've made do with what's at hand. Here's some places I have slept:
- Dad's bedside recliner in his room
- A couch within hearing distance
- An air mattress
- A hospital cot
- A visitor's chair in the hospital
- And most recently, a gerichair.
Nightmares and DementiaDad sometimes has very vivid dreams or even nightmares. He has often woke up, come out of his room, and asked, "Where's your mother?" (He still misses her.) The problem with that question is that Mom's been dead these last 8 years. But telling him that at 2 a.m. is unwise, because he won't believe it, or he will get really upset. Our best reply is, "She isn't here right now. Let's try to get more sleep, okay?" That's my cue to go stretch out in his bedside recliner and stick around until he is asleep.
These vivid dreams can be caused by medications like galantamine or by other drugs given to help delay or slow down dementia symptoms. Other things that mess up the sleep of a dementia patient can be sleep apnea, nocturnal bathroom visits, depression, sundowning, and changes in the brain itself. I don't know of treatments for each of those. Of course, when Dad doesn't sleep well (and I don't either!) he may nap during the day, which only disrupts a normal sleep pattern all the more.
Make a Plan for SleepBecause a guy with dementia is already taking a collection of daily pills, I don't like the idea of giving Dad a sleeping pill. Naturally-induced sleep is safest and best for me and for Dad. So we try to keep a standard schedule in the evenings, starting with supper. After the meal, we clean up, take the dogs for a short walk, then either try to read, go through old photos, play dominoes, or watch some news.
Bedtime is always 9 p.m. and it follows a ritual that we stick to carefully. After the dogs have their final trip in the back yard, we get everybody settled in. I make sure Dad has a flashlight and the TV remote control. We get the dog into her bed. Dad and I then get a big hug, and we recite a formula that we've used since I was a child:
Me: "Good night!"
Dad: "Good night!"
Me: "Sleep tight!"
Dad: "Sleep tight, and don't let the bedbugs bite!"
Me: "I won't, but I will see you in the morning."