Dementia symptoms: Three warning signs in your sleep to watch out for

Dementia is a terrifying prospect because there is no known way to prevent it and it becomes increasingly destabilising for the person affected and their loved ones. Dementia is not a disease in itself but a collection of symptoms associated with brain damage. Spotting these symptoms can be tricky at first because they can be easily confused with general defects of ageing.


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It is imperative to stay alert to the warning signs of dementia because the sooner you receive a diagnosis, the sooner you can take steps to slow the onset.

There are a number of symptoms associated with sleep that may help you spot dementia.

In fact, according to Dementia UK, sleep disturbance is very common in dementia, with a significant percentage of people with dementia experiencing disturbed sleep at some point in their condition.

“This may involve people waking up during the night confused, sleeping during the day and being awake at night, waking too early as well as an increase in restlessness in the early evening or night making it difficult to get to sleep,” explains the health body.

Sleep can be particularly worrying for people with Lewy body dementia.

Lewy body dementia, also known as dementia with Lewy bodies, is the second most common type of progressive dementia after Alzheimer’s.

As Dementia UK explains, many people with Lewy body dementia experience REM sleep behaviour disorder, which can cause vivid nightmares and violent movements during the night, insomnia, excessive daytime sleeping and restless leg syndrome.

Understanding the link between dementia and sleep disturbances

According to Dementia UK, these problems arise as dementia can affect the part of the brain that controls our circadian rhythms, otherwise known as our body clock.

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“This leads to a disruption in the sleep/wake cycle and can be extremely difficult to manage both for the person but also their family carers,” explains the health body.

In addition, people with dementia may be experiencing other problems which can disrupt sleep, such as anxiety, depression or untreated pain.

“They may have decreased activity during the day or may struggle to relax if they are in an environment that feels unfamiliar,” says Dementia UK.

As the health site points out, this may be even more difficult during the coronavirus outbreak, as many usual routines and levels of activities have been reduced causing increased levels of distress for families.


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Why sleep is critical for someone with dementia and tips to aid the sleep-cycle

“Good sleep hygiene for the person with dementia and the carer can help to reduce difficulties such as avoiding caffeine, alcohol and heavy meals prior to bedtime,” explains Dementia UK.

What does the health site recommend?

Trying to maintain a regular routine and including some exercise and/or activity during the day is important as is reducing the frequency and length of any daytime napping if possible.

“A good environment for sleep is essential which includes making sure the temperature is not too hot or too cold and reducing noise or bright lights,” says the health body.

Other key tips

If the person with dementia needs to get up during the night to use the toilet, try using a low level light and keeping the light on in the bathroom so they are less likely to disturb others, says Dementia UK.

“Having a night light and a clock which indicates day and night may help orientate someone with dementia and reduce distress,” it adds.

Sleep and dementia risk

Certain sleep routines may raise your risk of developing dementia too, research has found.

According to a study conducted by the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, sleeping more than nine hours per night was linked to a decrease in memory and episodic learning, both risk factors of dementia.

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Dementia care: The early warning sign which is related to COVID-19

Dementia broadly relates to a number of conditions which are associated with a declining brain. The type of symptoms a person with dementia may experience depends largely on the region of the brain that it is affected. As with COVID-19, a loss of smell could also be an early warning sign of the degenerative disease.


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The most suitable of all indicators of early signs of dementia, and commonly unnoticeable, is the failing olfactory function, or sense of smell.

Research has shown that patients could show a distinct inability to identify scent, recall the experience and associate or distinguish between various smells, as an indicator of Alzheimer’s disease.

Since the disease is degenerative in impact, the human faculties including the basic sense of smell could be impaired.

The Alzheimer’s Society said: “A study of nearly 3,000 people in the US found that older adults with a poor sense of smell were more likely to develop dementia later in life.

“Although the link between smell and dementia risk is an important finding, there are some key questions we need to answer.

“First, if someone fails the test, how likely are they to develop dementia.

“Second, if someone passes the test how likely are they to develop dementia?”

Many elderly might not be able to identify an odour or be able to differentiate one odour from another.

This is a sad reality for getting older, however, it could also often signal a potential warning of early dementia.

For some, the inability to detect an odour at all may be present.

Odour identification difficulties are common in people with neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease.


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Older people who have difficulty identifying common odours have been estimated to be twice as likely to develop dementia in five years as those with no significant smell loss.

In the absence of a known medical cause, an impaired sense of smell can be a predictor of cognitive decline.

Experiencing an olfactory dysfunction is often present before other cognitive symptoms appear, although this loss can go undetected.

The NHS added: “Many people with frontotemporal dementia develop a number of unusual behaviours they’re not aware of.

“Repetitive behaviours, such as humming, hand-rubbing and foot-tapping may signal frontotemporal dementia.”

Other symptoms of early dementia to be aware of include memory loss, difficulty performing familiar tasks, problems with language, disorientation to time and place, poor or decreased judgement, problems with keeping track of things, misplacing things or changes in mood or behaviour.

Alzheimer’s Disease International added: “Every person is unique and dementia affects people differently – no two people will have symptoms that develop in exactly the same way.

“An individual’s personality, general health and social situation are all important factors in determining the impact of dementia on him or her.”

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