Ninety four per cent of Australians who are caring for someone with dementia are suffering from sleep deprivation, a study of more than 100 carers has found.

Dr Aisling Smith

This can lead to poor health in the carer and undermine their ability to provide care, as well as increasing the risk that the person they are caring for will be moved into care away from the home, researchers from New Edith Cowan University (ECU) say.

The study, Disrupted sleep and associated factors in Australian dementia caregivers: a cross-sectional study, is published in the journal BMC Geriatrics.

The study found 72 per cent  of carers reported difficulty staying asleep, with stress the main contributor to poor sleep.

Lead researcher Dr Aisling Smith from the ECU’s School of Nursing and Midwifery, in partnership with Alzheimer’s WA, investigated the sleep characteristics and disturbances of 104 Australian caregivers of a person living with dementia.

Fourty-four  per cent of participants had two or more chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, osteoarthritis and diabetes, and there were high levels of depression, anxiety and stress among participants.

Dr Smyth warns that disrupted sleep in carers can increase the likelihood of a loved being put into long term care.
 
“Enabling people living with dementia to stay at home, rather than transfer to long term care is the optimal outcome for many families, but this can’t be at the detriment of the caregiver’s own wellbeing,” she said in a statement.
 
“Therefore, to support the person living with dementia to remain at home, preserving sleep and  maintaining caregiver health is vital.”

  Alzheimer’s WA Head of Dementia Practice Jason Burton said the organisation heard a lot of anecdotal evidence that playing a caring role can affect quality of sleep.

“We have partnered with ECU in this research to learn more about this impact and to find ways to support carers to maintain their health and quality of life,” he said.

Dr Smyth is currently working on a program to promote better sleep for dementia caregivers. 

The program will use cognitive behavioural therapy designed to help carers manage their stress and equip them with the knowledge and skills to improve their sleep.

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