Ruth Drew, director of family services at the Alzheimer’s Association in Chicago, said, “Many family members want to care for relatives with Alzheimer’s at home, but in order to do that, the caregivers themselves have to remain healthy. You cannot stay healthy if you don’t get a good night’s sleep.”
Many patients sleep a few hours at home during the day.
As the night passed at the Hebrew Home, other activities were offered to the 34 patients, ranging in age from their 60s to their 90s. Most moved on to a “cooking” program, where they were asked to peel and slice a banana, then add grapes and blueberries for a fruit salad.
During the slow process, the patients were asked, in English and Spanish, about colors and shapes. Several downed the fruit as it came their way, before salads could be compiled.
Other nighttime activities include walks through the nearly empty halls of the nursing home and “movie nights” with popcorn. Patients who are up to it are sometimes taken on field trips, for example, to see the neighborhood’s Christmas lights.
In quiet rooms, patients with more profound dementia were guided in simple puzzles like putting a peg in a hole. Others had sand or water poured over their hands to stimulate tactile sensations and perhaps reminiscences.
“They haven’t been to the beach in years,” said program director Deborah Messina. “Maybe it’s a fond memory.”
One darkened room was filled with recorded sounds of nature, a pleasant aroma and twinkly lights, all meant to provide gentle stimulation.
On occasion, a patient would nod off. There are “resting rooms” for patients who want to sleep, but half-hour naps in their chairs are more common.
“It’s like a sleepover,” Messina said. “It’s a little bit of a party, and like a sleepover, when they come home in the morning, they haven’t slept much.”