Alzheimer’s Disease and Nighttime Wandering

 wanderingUnless you have lived it, no one really gets it.

Nighttime wandering, depending on the person’s stages of dementia, will wreak havoc in your life. Daily, I get a crisis phone call from a sleep deprived caregiver who has spent yet another sleepless night listening for the sounds of their loved one, who they fear and know is leaving their bed.

Been there done that. My mom was the ultimate night walker! I can totally relate.

Years ago, when Mom was in the moderate stages of dementia, her night time wandering drove me into a sleep deprived caregiver mode. As you all know and have experienced, when you are sleep deprived, you have less patience, mental agility and energy the next day.

The reality is that when your loved one is wandering through the house, no matter what stages of dementia they are in, the sleep deprivation that will happen to you as a caregiver will turn you into the walking dead.

Putting Mom’s wandering into perspective…maybe this is payback for when I was a teenager and my parents waited up until I got home? But in reality, I was the good kid and my siblings were the late night rebels!

No matter who was the good kid or bad, with memory loss, all bets are off. Unfortunately for me – and now you – depending on the person’s stages of dementia, they may no longer remember which child did what or the good kids from the bad. This applies to all relationships including marriage, siblings, and children. Good or bad, happy or sad, all the memories of their loved ones get lumped together.

What this means to you as a caregiver, is that the person with memory loss could meld and blur past situations.

Past memories will become their now. And dealing with their “now” is now your reality.

Unfortunately for me (and now you), this situation is going to suck. How we deal with that situation will make all the difference. In order to be a successful caregiver, you will have to learn how the different stages of dementia will affect your loved one.

Sleep disorders are not uncommon. The reality is that it’s common for many of us to wake up in the middle of the night. But when a person has dementia, their sleep/wake cycle will change. Memory loss may affect sleep patterns and they may get up and have night time wandering. But this is common.

And oh my, the trouble they can get into.

Showering by themselves, cooking, dressing for a job they no longer have, or my mom’s favorite – tree trimming that I wrote about in “Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias: The Caregivers Complete Survival Guide“.

I have clients who raid the fridge and forget to close the door so that all of the food spoils. Some get dressed for business and then drive to their “office.” While others fuel the mid night oil by going through mail or email, signing up for newsletters, and even donating to causes and charities. 

But at a certain point, we need to stop worrying about what our loved one’s are doing during their daytime/nighttime mode, and focus on their safety during these times. Wandering around in a dark house can lead to anxiety and falls.

At first I didn’t even know Mom was nighttime wandering. I thought that I was just a tad stressed out from her daytime care and that I was overlooking things that I normally do, like put the dishes in the dishwasher, close a cabinet door, or shutting lights off.

I would awake in the middle of the night – a little caregiver anxiety – to check on Mom. All the lights in the house would be on and she was softly snoring. I actually called the electrician to check the circuit breakers!

And so I did what any caregiver would do. I freaked out.

I recalled a novel that I read many years ago where they put baby powder on a loved one’s feet at night. Mom was in the moderate stages of dementia and I was desperate. Her nighttime wandering had sent me into the dementia zone of caregivers.

Sure enough, the next day I found out who the nighttime light gremlin was. Yep, it was Mom! I simply followed her trail of foot prints until the powder wore off.

The next day I got a baby monitor. But after raising two kids, the monitor drove me nuts. Every sigh, toss and turn woke me up. This went on for six months. I hear the same thing from spouse caregivers who wake up every time their loved one moves in the bed because they fear their loved ones are getting up and out.

So I did the next logical thing that I could think of, I went out and bought a floor mat. Unfortunately, the only mat I could find was for Halloween, and it scared the bejeebers out of her. But she did stay in bed for a while! Mom grew up in a home bordering a cemetery. So after putting myself in her shoes, I realized I would freak out too if I put my feet on the floor in the middle of the night and heard ghosts and goblins making scary noises.

I finally found a mat that played music and that’s when Mom started getting out of bed again. It could have been due to her ever-changing stages of dementia or maybe the music didn’t scare her. 

Keeping Mom in bed at night was never my goal, but keeping her safe was.

Times have changed and so has technology. Products that were once only available to nursing homes, hospitals and assisted living facilities can now be purchased for home use. Alzheimer’s caregivers now have new ways that will alert them about night time wandering.

On the internet you can purchase bed mats that will remotely let you know that the person with dementia has left the bed. They have sensors based on body pressure that will alert you if a person is getting up or accidentally rolls off the bed. There are also floor mats that you can purchase that will alert you if your loved one leaves the bed. These mats can also be used in front of any door or area that you choose.

As the stages of dementia progress you will eventually buy or rent a hospital bed. Many Alzheimer’s caregivers mistakenly believe that their loved one is safe in a hospital bed, but nothing could be further from the truth. I will do another blog post on hospital beds, but for now consider buying a bed sensor that attaches to the bottom of the bed.

Keep in mind that these products will not keep the person with memory loss in place, they are not restraints. As a caregiver you will have to remain vigilant, but your job will be easier. These products may you get some peace of mind and hopefully some sweet dreams.

Do you have a question about the different stages of dementia? Ask an expert – I am here to help you.

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Every month, we’re giving away a free copy of “Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias: The Caregiver’s Complete Survival Guide” to a new member of our community. Enter to win a copy by entering your email in the “Subscribe” form on this page. 

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