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Dear Dr. Rosenberg, My 78 year old mother has Alzheimer’s and is in a nursing home. She sleeps on and off throughout the day and night. There is no rhyme or reason as to when she falls asleep or is awake. Is this common in Alzheimer’s? Is there anything that can be done to help? Most of the time when we come to visit she is asleep.
A: What you are describing is called Irregular Sleep Wake Disorder. It is fairly common in Alzheimer’s sufferers. Their internal circadian clock has become completely disassociated from any semblance of a normal sleep wake schedule. The best treatment is plenty of bright light exposure during the day along with structured activities. In some studies, the addition of small doses of melatonin at night can be helpful.
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