We have all heard stories of sleep walking that are unbelievable, and even chilling; stories of people leaving home, driving, or even doing unspeakable things, all while sound asleep. These episodes are thankfully incredibly rare. However, there is one type of night wandering which is becoming increasingly common and very dangerous. That is the nighttime wandering of those suffering from forms of dementia such as Alzheimer’s. For people with a spouse or loved one who is prone to wandering at night, whether due to sleepwalking or a form of dementia such as Alzheimer’s, it can be a worrying experience. There are simple modifications caregivers can make around the house to help keep them safe during their nocturnal wanderings.
To remedy any problem it is always helpful to have some understanding of why the problem is occurring. The National Sleep Foundation’s Sonia Ancoli-Israel, Ph.D. explains that Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia greatly disrupt the sleep/wake cycle, so that sufferers experience a greater amount of sleepiness during the day and a broken and uneasy sleep at night. This disrupted sleep often causes people to get up out of bed and wander. This is problematic for the caregiver, who then also experiences sleep disruption. While preventing patients or family members from getting up out of bed at night is nearly impossible there are ways to keep them safe while still getting a restful night’s sleep.
A good place to start is making the home or other accommodation safer, so that patients or family members can wander within the house while caregiver(s) remain asleep without worrying that the wandered will find themselves in a dangerous situation. The simplest method would be to use child gates, stop signs or other distractions that help remind the individual of areas they should not go. However, even though this is effective in many situations it does not alert a caregiver to any potential problems should the wandered ignore the signs. For the types of situations where an alert is required a door alarm or a motion sensor would be more effective. A door alarm is a little device that can easily attach to any door that will send a wireless signal to a receiver that will chime when the door is opened. Caregivers could attach one of these on a bedroom door or even the front door and have the receiver in their bedroom so that the chime could wake them if the door is opened at night. A motion sensor would work in a similar way except in an area that does not have a door. These chimes have volume controls and owners can even attach a flashing light or siren. These louder options are not advised however, as lights and loud noises often frighten those suffering from Alzheimer’s and can make them distressed.
Wandering is one of the most common causes for institutionalization, by instituting some of these suggestions family members are sometimes able to prolong loved ones time in the comfort of home.