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Insomnia and the Elderly

Insomnia and the Elderly

Posted on February 12, 2018 By Oliver Donnelly

Through time you may have heard that elderly people can function on less hours of sleep than say that of a young or middle aged person. However the facts are that the indices of insomnia become greater as you get older and usually, affect more women than men. This is why I am here, to run through the causes and treatments of insomnia with the elderly.

You may ask yourself why is age such a determining factor, the answer is that as we get older we become more prone to physical and mental changes, it’s just a part of life and these changes can lead to insomnia.


Causes of Insomnia in the Elderly

One of the main and most uneducated reasons for this is due to a change in our circadian rhythm. I know. You’re asking yourself “what’s that?” Well, basically your circadian rhythm tells your body weather you are tired or not and as we get older this rhythm can become disturbed which is why if you are of age you may feel tired in the early evenings and wide awake at night when you should be sleeping. “Indeed, the 2005 NSF poll found that 64% of adults over 65 consider themselves a morning person.” (National Sleep Foundation), the shift in your circadian rhythm can cause those of age to feel this way when in fact they are actually suffering from lack of sleep.

As we become older and our immune system weakens, naturally we are more prone to colds and flus which eventually lead to a trip to the doctor to receive certain medications. These medications too can have an effect on our sleeping patterns, whilst you blame that food you had for lunch think back to those meds you took earlier in the day! If you like, you can also discuss this issue with your local GP and they will direct you in way to battling the insomnia.

One of the more serious causes of insomnia in the elderly is that of depression, according to ( “80% of those suffering depression also report regular symptoms of insomnia”. As you can see this is a very high figure and shows us that depression can not only be a secondary cause of insomnia but in some cases it can also be the sole cause for insomnia. Meaning that, any treatment for insomnia in the elderly must be post-depression or similar mental illnesses.


Risks of Insomnia in the Elderly

Insomnia can quite quickly become a life changer in many elderly people and affect the most mundane of tasks. If insomnia is to become chronic in some people it can affect things like:

  1. 1.Concentration – This can be deadly, meaning that you may forget to turn the stove off while cooking, or for those elderly drivers it is all too daunting the possible tragedies that can happen because of lack of concentration behind the wheel.
  2. Clumsiness – Insomnia can increase clumsiness in a person, making them more prone to falls, cuts and bruises which can become a serious issue for the elderly.
  3. Denial – For some, denying that they have insomnia or not paying attention to the symptoms can lead to clinical depression, which again will increase sleep disturbance.


Diagnosing Insomnia in the Elderly

As stated above, the experts are at somewhat of a crossroads when it comes to diagnosing insomnia as it is usually caused by an underlying problem i.e. depression! With this being said, this may mean that the sufferer may have to undergo more than one treatment in order to get rid of the condition. At this moment there are certain test that you can go through in order to determine if you are suffering from the condition, however these may prove to be a problem as so many elderly in Ireland would avoid going to get checked out as they would just put it down to the “natural process” of getting older, we can in fact tell you this is not the case and we would recommend that you seek the help that is out there. Diagnosing insomnia is not just a case of going to the doctor once; revealing that you are suffering from the condition, this particular diagnosis according to the experts may take some time and involve a degree of compliance and treatment which may be hard for the elderly to accept at first instance.


Treatments of Insomnia in the Elderly

Now on to some good news, “Finally” says you. There are a number of treatments out there to help the elderly combat this frustrating condition, these come in the form of both behavioural changes and medical advice from your doctor. The behavioural changes that can help can include things such as:

  • Dark & Quiet – It is important that when you decide to go to be that it is in the right environment, what we mean by this is that you have a nice quite room with very limiting light, this way your brain will recognise that it is time to shut off for the day and allow your body to get that much needed rest to prepare for the next day.
  • Watch what you drink – Studies have shown that if you limit your fluid intake 3 hours before you go off to sleep this can help you get a better night’s sleep, for obvious reasons as you will not be running to the toilet all through the night. Also, avoid caffeine as you are all to aware these drinks are to stimulate your brain which is exactly the opposite of what you want when you go to bed. Drinks like, coffee, red bull, lucozade are a no go if you have to count countless sheep at night!
  • Relaxation/Stimulus Control Therapy – Proven to be two of the most effective ways of treating insomnia in the elderly, we would highly recommend this type of self-healing. Relaxation for one helps you train your muscles to take a break and this in turn will induce feelings of tiredness. As for stimulus control, this is in relation to where you get the most hours of sleep on a regular basis, and it is said that using this space for the sole purpose of sleeping will train your brain to shutting off while in this setting therefore making it easier to fall asleep more regularly.

With a little bit of routine and dedication to the above treatments we here at CarePoint would be confident that you would beat the dreaded sleep insomnia in no time!