Overnight Dementia Camp Shows Ingenuity and Acceptance


Published: 10/22/2012

by Carrie Steckl, Ph.D.


Banging pots. Loud singing. And the fear that your loved one might try to walk out the door at 3 AM.


Do these things sound familiar? If so, you are probably caring for someone with dementia who suffers from sundowner’s syndrome, or the tendency to become more agitated and alert in the evening and nighttime hours. Some individuals with dementia do not sleep at night at all, despite the best efforts of caregivers and professionals to create an environment conducive to sleep. Sundowner’s syndrome is extremely difficult for caregivers because it deprives them of sleep as well, which impedes their ability to provide good care.


While it’s good to try interventions that are known to help some people with dementia get a good night’s sleep (such as limiting caffeine, adhering to a relaxing bedtime routine, and engaging the person in morning exercise), there comes a point when it may be futile to go against the person’s “new nature.” If they are going to be up all night anyway, why not help them enjoy it?


That’s the philosophy of the Hebrew Home at Riverdale in New York, which created an overnight dementia camp called ElderServe at Night. An extremely rare service (no other programs like it are known), the program provides overnight care for those with dementia who are being cared for at home. The participants arrive in the late evening and stay through dawn, engaging in activities such as walks, art projects, movies and popcorn, exercise, and even field trips.


So far, the program has been a huge success. A few dozen people attend each night, and their caregivers receive something they sorely need – a good night’s sleep. You see, sleep deprivation is a primary reason that caregivers cite for needing to place their loved ones into long-term care settings.


The program is expensive, but most participants’ care is covered by Medicaid. Still, the logistics, cost, and extra staffing required all probably contribute to the program’s rarity.


But we can still learn from the Hebrew Home at Riverdale regarding how to approach sundowner’s syndrome and other difficult behaviors that accompany dementia. In most cases, fighting the person’s newly developed patterns rarely works. Being flexible and adaptive to those patterns often works much better.


Are there safe activities you can provide your loved one with dementia in the event that he or she wakes up in the middle of the night? Is the bedroom illuminated with night lights so your relative will be less confused upon waking? Could you put a favorite magazine or picture album by the bed so he or she will see it right away as a possible activity? Is there a simple, healthy snack you could leave on the counter that your family member can easily find if he or she wanders into the kitchen in search of food?


Each of these interventions can keep your loved one occupied during the night while minimizing noise and disruption. And that means there is a greater chance that you can get that good night’s sleep that you very much deserve.


Source: Overnight dementia ‘camp’ allows caregivers rest (October 1, 2012). Jim Fitzgerald, Associated Press: http://news.yahoo.com/overnight-dementia-camp-allows-caregivers-rest-183000916.html