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Sleeping Problems in the Elderly
Written By : C. Redman 
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Sleeping problems in the elderly may involve a number of factors such as: decreased energy output as a result of retirement,the age of the person, their state of health, and any prescription drugs they may be taking for health problems.

Illness disrupts sleeping patterns in the elderly, and may result in increased awakenings due to physical discomfort caused by: urinary urgency, cramps, angina, chronic obstructive airways disease, and left ventricular failure, these may be only some of the many illnesses which cause sleeping problems in the elderly.

An elderly person may become very anxious about any change in their sleeping pattern, however, it will be necessary to thoroughly investigate the problem, in order to ascertain if this perceived sleeping problem causes dysfunction in their waking activities. If the elderly person has a carer, or lives with family, then the problem may be easier to assess, for what appears to be a problem may only be a normal change in sleeping pattern for the age.

The most frequently occurring sleeping problem in the elderly is sleep latency, the person may spend some hours in bed before sleep occurs. The elderly person may view this as a problem and request sleeping pills, whereas, all that is needed is to teach them how to reorganize their lives to cope with the changes in sleeping patterns they are experiencing.

Reduced energy output as a result of retirement with an increased opportunity to take naps, either as a result of boredom or just plain exhaustion, may contribute to reduced quality of night-time sleep.

The pressure of a normal working day has been taken away, so the energy output is considerably less, while this may be offered as a possible reason for sleep latency, many others factors may be involved.

There may be much confusion about sleep latency, the difficulty may be exaggerated because the person who experiences it may be convinced that unless they have 8 hours of quality sleep, they will become ill. Sometimes it is difficult to convince an elderly person that they no longer require 8 hours of unbroken sleep, but may be better served by a shorter night time sleep supplemented with day time naps.

So how can sleeping problems in the elderly be resolved? Firstly it is necessary to provide a warm comfortable noise free environment, if this is available then the addition of regular exercise, combined with a healthy diet may be all that is needed to resolve the sleeping problem. However, if the previous measures fail to help, many other modalities are available to help the person .

Reflexology is one of these modalities which provides a very gentle and effective aid to sleep , and aromatherapy has proven to be very successful to assist relaxation and sleep in the elderly. Both of these modalities have been used in nursing homes and have been found to assist not only sleep, but the general well-being of the patients.

Sleeping problems in the elderly should be thoroughly investigated before any medications are prescribed, unfortunately this is not always the procedure that is adopted. All too frequently prescriptions are written for potent sleeping drugs, for what has been described as insomnia by the elderly person. However, such is mostly not the case, but rather it's a normal change of the circadian rhythms which occurs as people age, this requires education, not medication.

Provided that there is no evidence of disease of the central nervous system, such as dementia, Parkinson's disease, post-traumatic brain damage, and chronic pain, then sleeping problems in the elderly are far better managed conservatively.

Find out more about: retirement
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