Tips for an Agitated, Sleepless Dementia Patient

I just learned that my dad, who has dementia, has been getting more and more agitated and sleepless at night. Got anything that might calm him?

Dear Belleruth,

My dad has had a form of dementia for a long time.  He does not recognize my brother or me, and his mind is a jumble.  We have him safe and well cared for in a special facility.

I recently learned from a staff member that he was getting more and more agitated and sleepless during the night.  This makes him even more tired and confused during the day.

I would like suggestions for what might help him, unless you feel it is pointless.  Do you have any ideas about what might reach him?


Jack’s Son


Dear J.S.

Thanks for the question.  It’s definitely not pointless - some things are worth a try.

You may already being doing this, but if you aren’t, you might want to bring him his favorite music from an important time in his past. Sometimes words set to music with powerful associations with love get through the fog.

Calming aromas might do it too – a dab of essential oils on a pillow can have a soothing impact. The nose remembers what the neo-cortex has forgotten – after all, smell is connected to the oldest and most primitive part of the brain.  So you’ve got a shot with an aromatherapy intervention.  You could bring the staff some soothing essential oils that can be sprayed on his pillow or applied to his skin before bedtime, or when he wakes up.

Therapeutic massage might have a soothing impact for similar reasons – touch can reach where words no longer can, bypassing the thinking brain and going in right  through the skin.

Our guided imagery for Healthful Sleep might help, too – a calming, reassuring voice tone, pacing, and music can get through to the primitive brain even when the meaning of the words don’t register.

So I suppose all this boils down to a general strategy of appealing to his senses to help him calm down.  Any of these things is worth a shot.

And you might want to consider listening to some imagery for yourself, either to my guided imagery for Caregiver Stress or Lynn Joseph's excellent set of audios called Emotional Renewal Guided Imagery for Caregivers: Looking After Yourself While Helping a Loved One.

Best wishes,

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