Insomnia in the elderly

Insomnia in the elderly

Insomnia is highly prevalent in the elderly. Sleep deprivation is often debilitating and can last for even years resulting in memory loss, irritability, depression.
There are basically two categories of insomnia.
Sleep onset insomnia – difficulty with falling sleep, and
Sleep maintenance insomnia – inability to remain asleep throughout the night.

Causes of insomnia

Causes of insomnia varies from medical, psychiatric to psychosocial factors. The elderly frequently use sleeping aids. However there are risks associated with elderly patient’s self administering. If the person needs multiple medications, then a number of factors have to be addressed, such as the patients physical ability of self sufficient care, age, mobility, etc.

Insomnia may stem from health condition, medication and in some cases by sleeping habits or the sleep environment. Some of the causes could be:

  • Stress and Anxiety: Work-related pressures, death of a loved one, etc.
  • Poor Sleep Hygiene: Pre-sleep habits, the bed or surrounding environment, cold or hot weather conditions.
  • Irregular Sleep Schedule: Travel, erratic hours.
  • Consumption of Stimulants: Coffee, nicotine or other stimulants consumed close to bed time.
  • Depression: Depression is more common in the elderly.
  • Pain. Arthritis, osteoporosis or other conditions causing physical pain or discomfort.
  • Frequent Urination: Waking up to go to the bathroom throughout the night.
  • Movement and Sleep Disorders: Restless leg syndrome, periodic limb movement disorder, snoring, sleep apnea, and others.
  • Neurodegenerative Disorders: Besides, dementia, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Lou Gehrig’s disease; other similar disorders can cause insomnia.

Tests for determining the causes of insomnia in the elderly

The following tests can help in diagnosing and determining the causes of insomnia in elderly.

  • Sleep Diary: A sleep diary, in which sleep and waking times, disturbances, habits, and feelings are recorded for 1-2 weeks.
  • Sleep Study: Besides, a polysomnogram, or sleep study, may be conducted wherein the time taken to fall asleep and enter REM (rapid-eye-movement) are measured; also observe the stages of sleep  and twitching, seizures, breathing patterns, oxygen saturation, heart rate fluctuations, and other conditions.

Treatment options for insomnia include behavior modification and therapy. The healthcare professional must also use the appropriate treatment or treatment combination, including behavioral modification and pharmacotherapy.

The most important treatment is showing them you care, sharing time with them, helping them to be positive and showering them with your love. Cocoon them and just be there for them.