Sleeping more often is a common symptom of vascular dementia. While it doesn’t require medical treatment, steps can be taken to improve the quality of life for those with dementia.

Caring for a loved one with dementia may feel like a heartbreaking experience. Along with having memory loss, behavioral changes, and difficulties associated with caring for themselves, a person with dementia may also be susceptible to excessive sleepiness. And this is especially true for people in the later stages of the condition.

In this article, we’ll learn more about the connection between vascular dementia and sleepiness, and how to best support a person with this diagnosis.

Regardless of the type of dementia, it’s not uncommon for people with dementia to sleep more frequently — including during the day. Both the symptoms of and treatments for dementia can cause someone to sleep more than normal. If you have dementia, any or all of the following may affect your sleep schedule.

  • Medications: Some medications prescribed for either dementia or other conditions may cause drowsiness or insomnia at night. For example, antidepressants, antipsychotics, and even antihistamines also contribute to exhaustion in a person with dementia.
  • Fatigue: Dementia (and other health conditions you may develop as you get older) can be physically exhausting for the body to cope with. Sleep is an important part of your body’s healing process, so as dementia progresses, you may need more of it.
  • Melatonin depletion: As dementia progresses, your brain may start to produce less melatonin. This hormone is important to regulate your sleep/wake cycles.
  • Low sleep pressure: Those with dementia may experience long periods of low activity or boredom during the day. This doesn’t allow them to build up “sleep pressure” or feel tired when it’s time for bed.
  • Sundowning: It’s common for those with dementia to experience confusion and a worsening of other symptoms at night, known as sundowning. This added stress at night can make it difficult to maintain a regular sleep schedule.

Also, note that disordered sleep is a common side effect of dementia, as the condition can disrupt natural sleep patterns. As a result, some people with dementia may also be taking sleep medications to aid in regulating sleep cycles. This can also lead to excessive sleepiness.

According to a 2011 study, excessive daytime sleepiness may predict vascular dementia. Further, the U.K. Alzheimer’s Society notes that sleeping during the day is to be expected in a person with dementia.

Unless other unusual changes are present or the person with dementia seems agitated by excessive sleeping, sleeping more than usual isn’t considered a condition that requires medical interventions.

However, caregivers are encouraged to check on people with dementia who are sleeping excessively to prevent secondary health conditions like bed sores from developing.

In some cases, an underlying health condition, such as an infection, can also cause sleepiness. So, opting for a doctor’s appointment — as well as also asking your loved one’s physician to perform a medication review — can be helpful.

You’re not alone

Vascular dementia can be a debilitating disease that transforms loved ones. It may be emotionally draining for both the person with dementia and friends and family to experience.

The Alzheimer’s Association is one of the most comprehensive and reliable sources of information and supports resources for not just people with Alzheimer’s disease but also people with other types of dementia.

Find a local support group, join their online community, or visit their virtual library for resources and more information. And if you need help, don’t hesitate to call their helpline at 800-272-3900, which is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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Still have questions about vascular dementia? Let’s look at your most asked questions.

Should you let someone with dementia sleep all day?

While it can be alarming, most experts agree that allowing a person with dementia to sleep during the day isn’t harmful. But be sure to check on them periodically to prevent physical ailments like bed sores from developing.

If advised by a doctor, you may be able to assist them in gentle chair exercises to help counteract extra time spent sleeping.

What are signs that dementia is getting worse?

Progressive cognitive decline is one of the clearest signs that a person’s dementia is worsening.

For example, difficulty expressing thoughts, trouble managing basic tasks independently, increased memory loss of events and loved ones, and even emotional outbursts that are often triggered by exposure to unfamiliar situations are all signs that dementia has progressed.

What stage of dementia is characterized by sleeping all the time?

If your loved one is sleeping all the time, that may be a sign that they have entered later stage dementia. Learn more about the different stages of dementia.

Can vascular dementia stop progressing?

To date, there’s no cure for vascular dementia. However, medications can slow the progression of the underlying causes of vascular dementia to prevent additional brain damage.

In most cases, vascular dementia is triggered by sustaining a stroke. So, initial treatment will focus on preventing future strokes by controlling risk factors such as high blood pressure or cholesterol.

Note that lifestyle changes such as improving dietary choices, smoking cessation, reducing alcohol consumption, weight loss (if necessary), and getting active can all aid in slowing disease progression.

Can a person with vascular dementia live alone?

Similar to Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia is measured in stages. Independent living is easiest in early stage dementia when a person is still fully cognitive and able to care for themselves. In many cases, this stage can last for years.

But, if the disease continues to progress to the point where a person can no longer manage basic personal care tasks, becomes disoriented, wanders off, or experience behavioral disturbances, living alone isn’t safe. In later stages, a live-in nurse or possibly hospice care may be needed.

Learn more about what Medicare covers when it comes to dementia care.

What is the best medication for vascular dementia?

Because vascular dementia is usually triggered by underlying conditions such as cardiovascular diseases or diabetes, initial medications will target those concerns.

Often, a physician will first prescribe blood thinners or diabetes medications to stabilize a person’s health and prevent further damage. But sometimes some Alzheimer’s disease medications will be prescribed if a person is experiencing behavioral changes. Statins (or lipid lowering medications) may also be prescribed to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Is there a new drug for vascular dementia?

Although it’s not exactly new, amlodipine is a blood pressure medication that has shown promising results in early studies for preventing the progression of vascular dementia if used in the early stages.

The medication works by restoring the activity of the Kir2.1 protein, which is found in the blood vessel walls. Increased protein activity can improve blood flow and enable oxygen and nutrients to reach vital organs like the brain.

However, it’s important to note that these results require further investigation. If you want to get involved in this research, talk with a doctor about getting involved in clinical trials.

However, there are ongoing clinical trials for vascular dementia. To review options and determine eligibility, visit the National Institutes of Health (NIH) portal to search for active trials by location.

Currently, there’s no cure for vascular dementia. And, if you have a loved one who’s experiencing increased sleepiness during the day, this may indicate that the condition has progressed to a later stage.

The best treatments currently available for vascular dementia are most effective when interventions occur in the early stages of the disease. But for caregivers who want to support loved ones throughout all stages of vascular dementia, resources do exist to improve quality of life as well as provide emotional support.