In many of my past weekly messages, I have talked about the benefits of a healthy lifestyle for our elderly (not to mention for ourselves). Although I have generally focused on the benefits of proper nutrition and regular exercise as the main stays of a healthy life, a few comments have been directed toward the area of sleep and the necessity of a solid night’s sleep. This week I’d like to look more specifically at sleep disorders in our senior loved ones and some ways to resolve those disorders.
I often hear from many clients and their families of a misconception that the need for sleep declines with age. Quite to the contrary: Research demonstrates that our sleep needs remain constant throughout adulthood. It’s not the advancing of age by itself that keeps seniors from a good night’s rest, but various sleep disorders or sleep disturbances that often come with age.
POOR HEATH CAN CAUSE SLEEP ISSUES
Many seniors have problems sleeping because of health conditions — as well as their associated symptoms and medications. Some common senior health issues that can prevent you from getting healthy sleep include:
• Side effects of prescription medications.
• Chronic pain, often from health conditions such as arthritis.
• Alcohol consumption.
• Not getting enough exercise.
• Alzheimer’s disease or a neurological problem.
• Caffeine consumption.
• Frequent urination during the night.
As we age, our lifestyles change, which can and does create potential sleep disturbing issues. For example, we take on more responsibilities, which can develop into worrisome thoughts, which then can lead to sleep interruption. So as we get older there are many issues that can develop, thus adding to sleep disorders.
VARIOUS TYPES OF SLEEP APNEA
However, there are other more specific reasons for these sleep disorders. Sleep apnea is a major cause of sleep disruption. Apneas (and there are several forms: obstructive, central and mixed) are basically an absence of airflow for 10 seconds or longer during our sleep period. When multiple sleep apneas occur during a sleep period, restful sleep is clearly interrupted and the solid night’s sleep is lost.
There are also sleep related movement disorders such as restless leg syndrome which is the need to move one’s legs as a result of “uncomfortable” urges.
There is also the more prevalent movement disorder, periodic limp movement disorder, where one’s limbs (again, usually the legs) jerk every 20-40 seconds during sleep periods. Both of these sleep related movement disorders can easily be seen as disruptive to sleep.
REM BEHAVIOR DISORDER
REM behavior disorder is a disruption of our normal dream process. In this disorder, the elder (and often in men beginning at age 60) experiences incomplete REM atonia, or a temporary paralysis (low muscle tone during REM), that prevents the dream from being enacted and can often manifest itself in more violent dreams forms. Often, this form of sleep disorder is a precursor to another form of illness, such as dementia or Parkinson’s.
The result of these different sleep disorders can be correlated to many of the elder’s symptoms: lack of full night’s sleep, waking up often during the night, difficulty falling asleep and increased confusion.
Often, seniors will seem more depressed, have associated memory issues, will begin napping more during the day and/or begin using more over-the-counter sleep medications as the effects of their sleep disorder(s) continue.
TREAT THE UNDERLYING DISORDER
It is important to recognize these symptoms in order to treat the underlying disorder. And several easy treatments are readily at hand:
• Develop a healthier lifestyle (eat better, exercise regularly, etc.).
• Avoid eating too close to bedtime.
• Develop a bedtime routine and stick with it.
• Use the bed for sleep and intimacy, not for watching TV, etc.
• Don’t use caffeine prior to bedtime.
• Put your worries to bed before you put yourself to bed.
• Avoid daytime napping.
• Keep the bedroom dark, quiet and cool during sleep periods.
There are plenty of medically related issues that create sleep disorders for seniors (medical illnesses, medication side effects, etc.). Try to recognize the symptoms of the sleep related disorders that we discussed above, have a discussion about those symptoms with your loved ones and move forward with either medical treatment (via a physician) or with a well thought out plan of your own.
EVERYONE NEEDS ADEQUATE SLEEP
Remember, adequate sleep is mandatory for everyone. Without that necessary sleep our bodies will begin to break down and malfunction. Take care of yourselves and take care of those around you.
Later this summer, toward the end of July/early August, I will organize a symposium that will include education about financial planning, long-term care insurance and health care for our senior loved ones and ourselves.
Space for the event is limited. Last year’s symposium almost maxed out the conference room at CMC. Please log on to www.WSHC.NET to RSVP.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. For more information, go to www.visitingangels.com/comtns or call 970-328-5526.