Dementia is a debilitating disease that challenges millions of families each year. Of course, a diagnosis is devastating for the patient, but it can drastically change the lives of close loved-ones too. Now, a study conducted in the USA by the University at Buffalo School of Nursing finds that over 90% of those caring for a family member with dementia don’t get enough sleep.
Family carers participating in the study experienced less than six hours’ sleep on average per night. They were also frequently woken up throughout the night, as often as four times per hour. These sleep disruptions can lead to chronic sleep deprivation, which can put the health of family carers at serious risk.
“Though memory loss is the best-known symptom of dementia, more than 80 percent of people with dementia will also experience sleep disturbances, anxiety and wandering,” explains study leader Dr Yu-Ping Chang, the associate dean for research and scholarship in the School of Nursing. “These disruptions have negative effects on caregivers’ health, which in turn will diminish their ability to provide optimal care.”
The study analysed the sleep patterns of 43 adults over the age 50 who were serving as the primary caregiver for a family member with dementia. Each caregiver wore a device that measured sleep time, sleep efficiency, and any abrupt awakenings throughout the night for seven days. Participants were also asked to keep a sleep diary and fill out self-assessments on depression, burden of care, sleep quality and any behaviours that may interfere with night-time sleeping, such as naps or exercise.
The results showed that about 92% of participants experienced poor sleep quality, awoke frequently throughout the night, and slept less than six hours a night.
Researchers also said that caregivers reported enjoying better sleep patterns and quality than they actually were experiencing, indicating that many caregivers may be even more exhausted than they realise.
“Understanding how well caregivers are sleeping and the variables that affect them is an important first step toward the development of tailored and effective treatment,” Chang says. “This would help the millions of caregivers receive the optimum sleep needed to protect their health and continue to provide quality care.”