“He sleeps all day!”

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Most people with dementia, especially in later stages, will sleep all day if you let them. 

A lot of caregivers come to me with the same problem. “I don’t know what to do! He/she sleeps all day. Is that normal?”

It’s normal, if you let it be normal. Most people with dementia will err on the side of sleep if they’re given the opportunity. What I’ve found, honestly, is that if people are bored (and, especially, depressed) they will sleep.

My advice is always the same: stop putting your loved one in front of the television all day and find something for them to do!

Here are a few simple ideas that you can try immediately. They all revolve around the same concept: asking your loved one “for help” (even when you don’t need it) 

Ask them “for help” to:

– Fold towels

– Clean off the table and set up for a meal

– Bake something

– Match up socks

– Read the newspaper aloud to you (maybe your eyes are “too tired” to read)

– Come up with some new recipes

– Show you the best way to garden

– Help you label old photographs

I wrote that list in about 30 seconds. There are a ton of things that you can get your loved one with dementia to do that don’t involve sleeping. 

Now, this all works great…unless your loved one is in a particularly late stage of dementia. People in end stages of dementia will sleep no matter what kind of activity goes on around them. That is the body’s way of slowly turning off. It’s hard to watch, but it IS normal.

If your loved one is NOT in an end-stage of dementia, though, they should only be taking small naps throughout the day, not sleeping the whole way through it. Small naps are normal, and many older adults, even those without dementia, will do this as part of the aging process. What we don’t want to reinforce as normal, though, is the act of sleeping all day.

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Rachael Wonderlin has a Master’s in Gerontology and is the author of two published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. She owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting company.

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