BUFFALO, N.Y. — Dementia is a debilitating disease that challenges millions of families each year. Of course, a diagnosis is devastating for the patient, but it can also drastically change the lives of close loved ones too. Now, a study conducted 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.
Familial caregivers participating in the study enjoyed less than six hours of sleep on average each 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 familial caretakers at risk for weight gains, heart disease, depression, and premature death.
“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, in a statement. “These disruptions have negative effects on caregivers’ health, which in turn will diminish their ability to provide optimal care.”
Nearly six million people suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, which in turn impacts another 16 million who care for these individuals, including unpaid family members.
The study analyzed 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 behaviors 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 realize.
“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.”