It isn’t abnormal for the health of the family caregiver of someone with dementia to be overlooked, but new research shows that they are at a high risk of sleep disorders. Many times, the health of the caregiver goes to the wayside as the dementia patient is focused on, but these family members need to stay healthy to be able to continue the difficult task of taking care of someone with cognitive decline.
This new analysis published in JAMA Network Open consisted of combined data from 35 earlier studies and showed that family caregivers for dementia patients don’t sleep as long or get the same quality of sleep as other adults of the same age. The study showed that caregivers slept approximately two hours less per week than age-matched adults.
Chenlu Gao led the study to look at the impact of caregiving on sleep. She and her colleagues scoured the medical literature for research on the topic. Overall, they chose 35 studies to focus on that looked at sleep problems in caregivers, including some that also considered the possibility of therapy for the issue.
These combined studies included information on 3,268 caregivers, 76.7 percent of whom were women. The results showed that when compared to age-matched non-caregiving adults, caregivers slept less by an average of 2.42 hours to 3.5 hours per week. They showed signs of poor sleep quality and had more difficulty falling asleep.
“Sleep debt is known to have cumulative associations with physical, mental and cognitive health,” Chenlu Gao wrote after the study. “Therefore, poor sleep quality in dementia caregivers should be recognized and addressed.”
Sleep Problems Over Time
Sleep problems can lead to a host of health problems, especially if it’s lost over long periods. Loss of sleep can lead to a higher risk of Alzheimer’s, dementia, diabetes, and heart disease. Because of this, the research included 13 studies that looked at the importance of therapy for sleep problems in caregivers. Those studies showed that poor sleep could, indeed, be improved.
Katherine Ornstein, an assistant professor of geriatrics and palliative care medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City who was not involved in the study commented on the study, saying, “The new findings are really just one more reminder that we have to do more to support caregivers. That’s the bottom line. We are completely reliant on them. And with dementia they are (caregiving) for longer periods of time.”
This research helps to shed light on the health issues that can affect those caregivers that often get over-looked. If sleep problems persist in caregivers, it can affect their health to the point that they will no longer be able to continue caregiving for a loved one. It is vitally important for caregivers to take of themselves as well as taking care of others—this is something that often gets forgotten.
If you or someone you know is suffering with sleep problems while acting as a caregiver to someone with dementia, it’s advised to speak to your doctor. You can work together to monitor sleep habits and take steps to improve your mental health, and ultimately get you on the road to sleeping and feeling better.