An older couple lies facing each other in bed. The woman is asleep, breathing regularly, and the man is awake, watching her anxiously.

Dad's Struggle With Sleep After Mom Was Diagnosed With Alzheimer's

Lots of people have trouble falling asleep at night. Especially as we grow older, it can become increasingly difficult to fall asleep.

We can try different things to help us fall asleep like going to bed at the same time every night, avoiding caffeine later in the day, and leaving our electronic devices on the nightstand.

But what if your beloved partner has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and is lying wide awake next to you in bed unable to fall asleep? What if they keep getting up out of bed because they can not settle down for the night or because they think it is day time and time to wake up? What if they keep asking you questions and expecting you to answer them? What if they feel like they have to go to the bathroom every hour and you feel like you need to help them so they do not fall in the middle of the night? Or perhaps your loved one is able to fall asleep finally. But soon they are snoring and then appear to stop breathing?

My mom's sleep apnea diagnosis

This is the story of my dad’s struggle at bedtime with my mom after her Alzheimer’s diagnosis. They would go to bed every night at 10:30pm.

After a considerable amount of time would pass, Mom would finally fall asleep. My dad would be falling asleep, but then notice that my mom had stopped breathing. Like she was holding her breath. Then she would start to breath again and Dad would relax a bit. Then he would notice Mom had stopped breathing again. My dad would call her name or touch her shoulder to get her to start breathing again. My poor dad said he would lie awake every night watching my mom sleep because he was so frightened she would stop breathing!

He told the family about what was happening with Mom. We called her primary care doctor. After listening to what my dad was telling him about the signs and symptoms that Mom was experiencing and examining her, the doctor told us she most likely had sleep apnea. He made an appointment for my mom to go to a sleep disorder center to have a sleep study done to confirm the diagnosis.

Turns out Mom did have sleep apnea, which is a serious sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts. She would have to wear a CPAP mask every night to bed. Thankfully this happened during the earlier stage of Mom’s Alzheimer's journey, and she was willing to wear the CPAP mask without much of a problem. My dad or I would help her put on the mask and settle her into bed for the night. It helped both my mom and dad sleep better at night. My mom would no longer stop breathing so Dad could relax and get some much-needed sleep. This lasted a couple of years.

Sleep issues for my dad as the caregiver

However, as Mom’s Alzheimer’s progressed it became increasingly difficult. She would become angry at bedtime and refuse to wear the mask. She would take it off the minute Dad was not watching or had finally fallen asleep in exhaustion.

All night long it became a constant struggle to have Mom wear her mask. Finally, the doctor told us to let Mom sleep without the mask so she could settle down at night, which she did for a while. Poor Dad lying awake again watching her stop breathing. When Mom reached the last stages of her journey, she wore her mask again but I do not know how much it helped by then.

This had been an unexpected and very difficult part of Mom’s Alzheimer's journey.

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