Ask Miriam – September 2021

Published On: September 2nd, 2021Categories: Ask Miriam
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Dear Miriam,

My mother-in-law, who is 79, lives in our home with my wife, our three teenage children, and me. She was recently diagnosed with dementia, and we are having a hard time. She moved in with us a year ago after her husband passed away. I think she had been having trouble with her memory way before he died, but it seems like it has gotten a lot worse. Right now, she is barely sleeping at night and constantly wakes us up, roams the house, and even moves furniture around. My wife and I both work full-time, and we’re exhausted…please help.


Dear Exhausted,

It sounds like you have a lot on your shoulders right now, and I’m glad that you decided to reach out. It is common for people with dementia, as they become more confused, to behave in new ways that can be challenging for the rest of the family. When someone is not sleeping through the night, it may be helpful to take some time to explore what might be the cause.

Sometimes if a person naps too much, they won’t sleep well at night. If that is the case, work on ways to help her stay alert during the day. Are there things she enjoys that can be part of her routine? Ask your teenagers to do one activity with her a week, such as take her for a walk, do a puzzle together, or read aloud.
Keeping to a schedule may also be helpful. Have a regular time for waking up, getting dressed, bathing, eating, and any activities during the day. Then have a routine to help her wind down at the end of the day before going to bed.

Exercise is also important. Consider what she can and can’t do so she doesn’t get frustrated. And there is no need to ask if she “wants” to do it – just get started!

Make sure to keep the house brightly lit during the day and let in as much sunlight as you can. Fresh air can also be helpful. Lower the lights at night and close the blinds or drapes. Keep caffeine to a minimum especially later in the day. And try to make sure that she stays hydrated, goes to the bathroom, and is not hungry when she goes to bed.

Ask her doctor if there are any physical issues that may be causing her pain or if there is another cause for her sleeplessness, such as anxiety or medication side effects. There might also be a safe medicine that could help her get a better night’s sleep.

Everyone in the house deserves to get the sleep that they need. If she continues to be awake and active at night, consider bringing help into the home overnight so that she can be supervised and everyone else can sleep.

For more support and information about helping a person with dementia sleep through the night, call our Helpline at 844-435-7259 or view our Sleeping Tip Sheet.


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