Helping Those with Dementia (and Caregivers) Sleep Soundly

Helping Those with Dementia (and Caregivers) Sleep Soundly

If you’re a caregiver for someone with dementia, chances are you know the value of a good night’s sleep. Sleep plays a crucial role in our physical, mental, and emotional health, and quality sleep plays a huge role in quality care. Unfortunately, poor sleeping patterns are common amongst those with dementia, as well as family caregivers. Changes triggered by old age and dementia can make sleeping more difficult for those with memory disorders, while the stress and burdens of care can make a full night’s sleep rare for family caregivers.

While there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to sleeping issues — especially when dementia is involved, — small changes can make a big impact on the quality of sleep enjoyed by those with dementia and their care providers. If you’re finding quality sleep is a problem for your loved one or yourself, here are some of the adjustments you might want to consider making:

Improving Sleep for Those with Dementia

Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia can throw up a number of roadblocks to quality sleep. Dementia can be disruptive to a person’s circadian rhythms, the natural cycle that the body uses to understand when it should be asleep and when it should be awake. Many people with dementia also suffer from Sundowner’s Syndrome, meaning they become more agitated and anxious in the evening. Additionally, seniors with dementia are also likely to suffer from poor sleep quality, which is common in old age.

As a caregiver, you can take steps to regulate your loved one’s sleeping schedule, reduce Sundowner’s-related agitation, and improve you loved one’s overall quality of sleep. These steps include:

  • Encourage a regular sleeping routine, including going to sleep at the same time each evening and waking up at the same time every morning. This will ensure minimal disruption to your loved one’s circadian rhythms.
  • Have your loved one spend time outdoors during the day or in an area with lots of indirect natural light. Sunlight is one of the best ways to regulate circadian rhythms, sending signals to the brain about when is best to be awake and when to go to sleep.
  • Take your loved one for walks during the day and find other ways to encourage light physical activity. Physical activity tires people out and lets the body know that it needs sleep in order to recharge.
  • Have your loved one avoid screens and other forms of stimulation before going to bed. Screens can disrupt circadian rhythms, while exciting TV shows or activities can induce Sundowner’s related agitation and anxiety.
  • Ensure that your loved one has a dark and quiet space for sleeping at night. Try to avoid any possible noises or disruptions that could wake your loved one, such as activity from other family members who are up late at night. Also try to avoid strange shapes or harsh shadows that could distress your loved one if they wake up at night.

Getting Enough Sleep as a Caregiver

People with dementia aren’t the only ones whose sleep is impacted by a memory disorder. As a family caregiver, you will typically wake up before your loved one and go to bed at a later time, meaning you often get less sleep than your parent or grandparent. It can also be tempting to stay up late and try to accomplish the things you couldn’t do during the day while providing care. In other cases, you might find yourself so stressed each night that you struggle to close your eyes.

By not getting enough sleep, you can easily put yourself at risk for caregiver burnout. It should come as no surprise that lack of sleep is one of the biggest signs of caregiver stress. And when you suffer from burnout, you put yourself and your loved one in an unwinnable position.

The good news is you can use the same steps — following a routine, getting sunlight and exercise, avoiding screens, and creating a comfortable sleeping space — to help yourself develop healthy sleep patterns. You might also want to take steps like practicing meditation (to reduce stress) and reducing your caffeine intake.

If you find that your sleeping problems are because you’re over-stretching yourself, you might consider professional dementia care. A few hours of professional dementia care for your loved one each week can give you the time you need to tend to other areas of your life. This means you’ll have a chance to accomplish other work, see friends, spend time with family, or take time for yourself. Even four to six hours of care once a week can be enough to make falling asleep easier at night.

If you think dementia care services may be right for your loved one, contact your local Visiting Angels office today to learn more about services available in your area.

Why Veterans Make Exceptional Caregivers

Why Veterans Make Exceptional Caregivers

A great caregiver can come from almost any background. But when you’ve spent twenty years in home care, it becomes clear that some professional backgrounds do really prepare caregivers for working with seniors.

At Visiting Angels, some of our most successful home care providers come from military backgrounds. Through their experience in the armed forces, our veteran franchise owners have developed the skills and the character that distinguish them as quality care providers.

In fact, we’ve found that veterans make such exceptional care providers that we’ve become a part of the VetFran network. Through VetFran, we help military veterans start their own home care businesses as part of the Visiting Angels family.

Here are just a few of the reasons why we’ve found that veterans make exceptional care providers, and why Visiting Angels seeks out veterans as agency owners:

“No Man Left Behind”

Military service teaches a lot to those in uniform, but perhaps the most valuable thing it teaches is loyalty to those who rely on your service. As a member of a military outfit, you and your fellow soldiers are dependent on one another. All it takes is one weak link for the chain to fall apart.

So, it’s little surprise that when veterans become caregivers, their loyalty to their clients is often second to none. Veteran care providers know that their clients depend on them — for comfort, for safety, and for companionship. They also understand the weight of that responsibility, often in a way that other care providers don’t. As a result, we’ve seen veterans go the extra mile for their clients time and time again, showing seniors the same loyalty that they once showed to other members of their unit.

Getting the Job Done

When you need a job done — and done right — there’s no one better to call on than a veteran. Veterans have trained and served under conditions few civilians will ever experience. Those experiences allow them to develop the skills and discipline they need to tackle almost any tough job once their tour of duty is complete.

In the caregiving industry, this can make all the difference. Caregiving might not always be a complicated job, but it’s one that requires patience, discipline, and a willingness to do what needs to be done. Whether that means pulling a twelve-hour overnight shift, helping clients cope with physical or memory limitations, or treating seniors with compassion and dignity — no matter their difficulties — you can count on veterans to approach care work with a committed and motivated attitude.

Veterans Helping Veterans

According to Veterans Affairs, there are currently almost 20 million veterans living in the United States. Over 9.4 million of those veterans are 65 years of age or older. That means nearly 1 in 5 American seniors is a military veteran.

In order to live comfortably and safely, many veterans require some form of personal care. Many receive care in the comfort of home, while others are cared for in an assisted living center or within a nursing facility.

No matter where they are cared for, having a veteran as their caregiver can often make a major difference in the effectiveness of their care.

This is something that Visiting Angels touched on in a conversation we had with Will Bruck. Will is the owner of the Visiting Angels office located in Monroe, MI. He is a three-tour veteran of the U.S. Army. Will has now dedicated his life to providing care for seniors, with a specialized focus on veteran care. In our conversation, Will described how his service background allows him to connect with veterans in a way that other caregivers — and even veterans’ family members — often can’t.

“I’ll go to family’s homes and I’ll talk to their mom or dad, and afterward, the children will say, ‘I’ve never heard dad say that stuff.’ It opens up a whole new door, and they realize ‘This is the company I need to go with.’”

Thanks to that personal connection and understanding, Will has been able to provide Monroe County’s veterans with a level of care they would not have been able to otherwise receive. Veterans make up nearly half of Will’s clientele, and he has since opened a second office in nearby Adrian, MI.


Will’s agency is one of several Visiting Angels locations that provides in-home senior care to veterans, both through standard care programs and as a registered caregiver with his local VA. If you are looking for a caregiver for a loved one in your area, we invite you to contact your local Visiting Angels office or call 800.665.4189 to contact the agency closest to where the care is needed.

Larry Meigs, Visiting Angels

Using Body Language to Communicate Clearly to Those with Alzheimer’s

Using Body Language to Communicate Clearly to Those with Alzheimer’s

As Alzheimer’s progresses, verbal communication becomes more and more difficult. Alzheimer’s has a devastating effect on the brain’s ability to recognize and process verbal language. Language impairment is considered one of the “primary components” of cognitive decline in those coping with Alzheimer’s.

For those of us who provide Alzheimer’s care, whether as family members or professional caregivers, this makes communication difficult, particularly in the mid-to-late stages of Alzheimer’s. But “difficult” is not “impossible.” In fact, there are non-verbal ways we can use to communicate clearly with Alzheimer’s sufferers, commonly known as “body language.”

But there’s a catch here: few of us are truly fluent in body language. When we’re growing up, we spend years learning how to read, speak, and write — but this is all verbal language. Most of us didn’t get class credit for learning open posture or how to maintain proper eye contact.

So consider this post a crash course in why body language is more powerful than you might think, how caregivers can become more fluent in non-verbal language, and what you can (and can’t) say by communicating this way.

Body Language Essential to Alzheimer’s Care

Human beings learn how to read body language well before we ever speak our first word. And for people who are coping with Alzheimer’s, their ability to understand body language lasts much longer than their ability to understand speech and written language.

When verbal language fails those suffering from dementia, they turn to other ways of making sense of their surroundings. Consciously or unconsciously, they start to rely on other signals to interpret the world and the people they interact with. If a conversation can’t be followed, other signals (like crossed arms, anxious tapping, or laughter) become more important than what’s being said. If someone’s shouting, it’s not what they’re shouting, but that they’re shouting that matters.

As those with Alzheimer’s come to rely on non-verbal communication more and more, even small gestures — a slight change in posture, a quiet sigh — can become meaningful and magnified. For caregivers, it’s important that we understand what our body language is saying to those in our care and how we can harness the power of body language to comfort and communicate with care recipients.

Body Language 101 for Alzheimer’s Caregivers

Becoming fluent in body language doesn’t happen overnight. Executives and politicians spend years perfecting the ways they communicate non-verbally. But by making a conscious effort to build and hone our non-verbal communication skills, it’s possible for caregivers to communicate more clearly and effectively with those in our care.

Here are some of the key ways that you can improve your body language fluency as an Alzheimer’s care provider:

  • Eye Contact. Maintain eye contact to convey that you’re paying attention to a person coping with Alzheimer’s. Don’t avoid eye contact during conversation. Doing so conveys dismissiveness. Eye contact should be made at their eye level or below — not above, which gives the impression of dominance.
  • Facial Expressions. Always be conscious of what your facial expressions are saying. In day-to-day conversation, it’s easy to say one thing and have a raised eyebrow or a twist of the mouth say another. When these expressions are the only thing the recipient can understand, the words your using aren’t what matter.
  • Open Posture. Keeping an open posture is a key part of body language. An open posture — facing the person, chest forward, no crossed arms or legs — tells a person that you’re focused on them, open to their concerns, and engaged with them emotionally.
  • Avoid Tics and Distractions. Small tics and distractions can show that you’re agitated, angry, or bored when spending time with a person. Tapping your armrest, bouncing your knee, checking your phone, or multi-tasking can communicate that you’re not invested in the person.
  • Use Gestures. Using your hands and objects around you to communicate simple messages can do wonders when caring for someone with Alzheimer’s. However, it’s important not to overuse gestures, which can agitate or confuse those with Alzheimer’s.

Using Body Language to Communicate

Body language is a highly effective tool for communication, but it’s a limited one. So it’s important to know what you can and can’t communicate by using body language.

For instance, complex thoughts and directions require verbal language. There is nothing your facial expression or posture can do to tell someone with Alzheimer’s that it’s time to go to the bathroom or that someone has come to visit.

What body language can communicate, however, is much more important. Your body language conveys care, it conveys trust, and it conveys love. For a person with Alzheimer’s, these messages are extremely powerful. They make a person feel valuable, cared for, and comfortable.

Someone with Alzheimer’s might not be able to understand the words “I’m here for you,” or “You can trust me,” or “I love you.” But body language offers a way to make these messages clear. For those of us who care for those with Alzheimer’s, it’s an invaluable tool.


Visiting Angels is America’s choice in home care. Since 1998, Visiting Angels locations across the country have been helping elderly and disabled individuals by providing care and support in the comfort of home. In addition to senior home care and adult care, Visiting Angels provides dementia care and Alzheimer’s care for individuals suffering from memory disorders. There are now more than five hundred Visiting Angels locations nationwide.

Music Therapy: Planning Ahead During Early-Stage Alzheimer’s

Music Therapy: Planning Ahead During Early-Stage Alzheimer’s

When a parent, spouse, or relative is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, it can feel as if you’re starting an uncertain journey without any sort of roadmap. It’s a feeling that can persist even as the disease progresses. Often, caregivers look back during the later stages of Alzheimer’s and wish they’d taken earlier steps that would have made late-stage caregiving easier.

One particular area where this can crop up is music therapy for Alzheimer’s sufferers. In recent years, music therapy has been the subject of increased media attention and scientific research. There is now widespread anecdotal and data-driven evidence that music therapy is one of the most effective ways to reduce stress and improve the mood of Alzheimer’s sufferers, particularly those in the mid-to-late stages of the disease.

One of the biggest challenges to music therapy for Alzheimer’s patients is choosing the right music. That’s because the most effective music therapy programs use a patient’s favorite songs from their childhood, teenage years, and early adulthood. Even when late-stage Alzheimer’s has claimed other memories, the beat or hook of a once-familiar tune can dissipate stress, encourage cognitive activity, and transport sufferers back to the feeling of happier times.

If you are caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s, it can be hard to find the right tunes for music therapy — especially if you start searching in the mid-to-late stages of the disease. By this point, it will likely be more difficult for your loved one to recall the artists and song titles they were most fond of growing up. More important, it will be harder for them to have the kind of conversations that make it easier to build a music therapy playlist.

If you have someone close to you who’s recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, taking steps now could make it easier to care for your loved one in the later stages of their condition. To find the artists and songs your loved one responds best to, consider the following suggested steps and resources.

Start with Conversation and Research

The first place to start when researching a loved one’s childhood musical tastes is with conversation. Even if your loved one can’t remember all — or even most — of their favorite artists and songs from their early years, they will likely be able to remember a few that you can use as a launching off point.

It’s not necessary to have a single long and intensive conversation. In fact, it may depress your loved one to dwell on preparations for the progression of their illness. If this is the case, you may wish to have short conversations, or ask casually without bringing Alzheimer’s into the conversation. On the other hand, your loved one might enjoy the trip down memory lane, in which case you should feel free to mine their memories.

Once you’ve pinned down a few of their favorite songs and artists, you can turn to the internet for further research. These days, it’s easier than ever to explore a genre or decade of music. Whether you’re using links on Wikipedia, a music streaming service, an oldies satellite radio station, or a combination of all three, you can begin researching the sort of singers, bands, and songwriters that your loved one grew up listening to.

As a general rule, focus on the twenty-year period between your loved one’s fifth and twenty-fifth birthdays. Find out what kind of songs were on the radio at that time, and which artists were most closely associated with the ones your loved one enjoyed. You can use links between Wikipedia articles, suggested artists on streaming services, or whoever’s up next on the oldie station to make these connections.

kitchen radio with a cup of teaSee What Your Loved One Responds To

Once you’ve brainstormed a list of possible artists and songs, start putting playlists together to share with your loved one. Unless your loved one is invested in the project, don’t force him or her to sit down with headphones and a notepad. Instead, play the songs as background music while doing tasks together, during relaxing moments, or while driving in the car.

At this point, see how your loved one responds. If your loved one says they remember certain songs or certain artists, make a mental or physical note of which ones. If they seem to perk up at the sound of a particular tune, keep that song in mind for the future. If they’re humming along or bouncing their knee to the beat, that’s even better.

During these listening periods, you’ll start to get a better sense of which artists and genres your loved one connects with most. You can then start repeating this process, using the songs and artists your loved one likes to get a better sense of which other songs and artists they might be inclined toward. You can then go back to your research to brainstorm new songs to try out.

The more time you spend on this, the more you can become familiar with the music from your loved one’s earlier years. As you become better versed in the music of the time, you’ll be able to make smarter and more educated guesses about your loved one’s tastes. You might also find that you begin to develop a deeper bond with your loved one through this process, giving the two of you something to talk about that truly hits home.

Create Personalized Playlists for Music Therapy

Whether your list ends up getting narrowed down or dramatically expanded, you’ll soon be able to generate a full collection of songs for future music therapy. At this point, you can begin to put half-hour or hour-long playlists together, selecting the songs that you think will be most joyous or most calming for your loved one.

Of course, there’s no need to shelve this collection during the early stages of your loved one’s Alzheimer’s. If you’ve found that these songs have had a positive effect on your loved one, you should continue to play them and enjoy them together.

You may even wish to take more trips down memory lane. These days, it’s just as easy to research old radio shows or movies that your loved one may not have heard or seen for several years. While plot-driven narratives are hard to follow for mid-stage and late-stage Alzheimer’s sufferers, reliving these memories can be invaluable for those in Alzheimer’s early stages.

radio on console in living room of a hospice center

When the Time Comes, You’ll Be Ready

By doing this kind of legwork during the early stages of Alzheimer’s, it is easier to provide music therapy for a loved one when they reach mid-stage or late-stage Alzheimer’s. While this can be an extraordinarily difficult time for you and your loved one alike, it can be made easier if you’re able to provide your loved one with moments where he or she feels comfortable and at peace with the world.

At this time, it’s important to make sure that your loved one is comfortable when listening to his or her music. Consider investing in a padded pair of over-ear headphones, which can make it easier for your loved one to focus on his or her music. Also, remember that music played at loud volumes can be stressful or disorienting for those suffering from memory disorders. Make sure to test the volume of the music before playing it for your loved one and try turning it down if the volume seems to agitate him or her.

In addition to music therapy, there are a number of other therapeutic activities and exercises for those with Alzheimer’s. More and more Alzheimer’s caregivers are integrating art therapy and nature therapy into the care they provide for Alzheimer’s sufferers. These therapies — either in conjunction with music therapy or on their own — may also help you in caring for your loved one.


Larry Meigs, President & CEO of Visiting Angels

Visiting Angels is America’s choice in home care. Since 1998, Visiting Angels locations across the country have been helping elderly and disabled individuals by providing care and support in the comfort of home. In addition to senior home care and adult care, Visiting Angels provides dementia care and Alzheimer’s care for individuals suffering from memory disorders. There are now more than five hundred Visiting Angels locations nationwide.