Friday, 31 May 2019

GUEST POST - 5 Ways to Improve Sleep for Seniors

There’s no getting around it. Sleep can be a struggle for seniors. Insomnia and snoring increase as do instances of dementia and the need for medications that may cause wakefulness. But seniors need the same seven to nine hours as other adults. Sleep problems can primarily be reduced with good sleep habits and a plan that addresses individual sleep issues.  

Incorporate Daily Exercise

A 2010 study found that aerobic exercise can help seniors fall asleep faster and reduce night wakings. While insomnia isn’t the only sleep issue seniors may be facing, any kind of exercise can help wear the body out while helping to maintain muscle tone and heart health.

Exercise doesn’t need to be vigorous or strenuous to bring sleep benefits. Yoga, swim aerobics, and walking are low impact forms of exercise that can be tailored to the needs of seniors. Activities that can be enjoyed with others also offer social opportunities. While thirty minutes per day is recommended, any exercise is always better than none.

Bright Light Therapy

Sunlight, and other forms of blue spectrum light, naturally suppress sleep hormones during the day. As light fades, sleep hormones get released. Aging eyes often don’t let in as much light as they once did. When the eyes cannot absorb as much sunlight as is necessary to regulate sleep hormones, sleep irregularities like daytime sleepiness and nighttime insomnia may follow.

Increasing daytime exposure to blue spectrum light can help put the sleep cycle back on track. Seniors who participate in bright light therapy spend a few minutes each morning in front of a lamp with a specially designed light blub that mimics sunlight. The increased exposure to blue spectrum light supports the body’s natural rhythms and can improve the regularity of the sleep cycle.

Try Meditation

Stress can be a major sleep loss factor at any age. Seniors may face the loss of a spouse, financial changes, and/or moving out of a beloved home. The stress of life changes can compound sleep problems. Meditation is a simple, time effective way to manage stress.

Meditation has been shown to strengthen connections between the brain’s emotional and logical centers to aid emotional control. With practice, it can also reduce heart rate and improve blood pressure both of which can reduce stress and improve sleep. Seniors can participate in classes with a live instructor or meditation CDs or apps. Even 10  to 15 minutes per day can be enough to reduce stress levels.

Create a Bedroom of Comfort

Comfort can be an issue for seniors as aches and pains tend to increase with age. A heating pad, over the counter pain medication, and a glass of water on a nightstand provide easy access to nighttime pain relief.

A supportive mattress that’s the right firmness level for height and weight can make a big difference. Adjustable beds are other good option as they allow seniors to make adjustments for injuries and can be easier to get out of. Environmental conditions like cool to moderate bedroom temperatures, complete darkness, and absolute quiet make a difference too. Motion sensor nightlights are often a good idea as they allow seniors to see during nighttime trips to the bathroom, yet the light won’t keep them awake.

Set a Reasonable, Regular Bedtime

The human body, no matter the age, relies on consistency and behavioral patterns to correctly time the release of sleep hormones. A regular bedtime and calming bedtime routine are key to a consistent sleep pattern. The familiarity of routine also helps with dementia and other neurological issues that may come with age as they may reduce fear and irritability related to sundowning.


Seniors need just as much sleep as other adults. They face unique challenges, but a plan and support from family, friends, and health professionals can help.

Contributed by Amy Highland,

Amy Highland is a sleep expert at Her preferred research topics are health and wellness, so Amy's a regular reader of Scientific American and Nature. She loves taking naps during thunderstorms and cuddling up with a blanket, book, and cats.

Friday, 17 May 2019

Lasting Legacies

A couple of years ago, a very close aunt of mine passed away. She was the keeper of the family history. She found relatives we never knew we had and even created an extensive family tree that could plaster the walls of a decent size bedroom. She knew connections and remembered events and dates like no one else I knew. As I started noticing changes in her physical health, it occurred to me that when she was gone, no one would be able to fill that role. So much of the history of our family would be lost. So I asked her to start writing about her life. She couldn't understand why. To her, her life was unremarkable. To me it was incredibly special and a story I wanted preserved for future generations. I wanted her to leave us a legacy by transferring the knowledge of those connections, people and history to me. Unfortunately, by the time I asked her to do this, her abilities were already declining. She wrote some, but not enough to give me the story I wanted. I realized, it was something I should have asked her do years before or sat with her to create when I had the chance. Sometimes we get so caught up in the day to day, that the years fly by and things get forgotten or put off until it is too late.

When I worked as a hospital social worker, the concept of leaving a legacy for family came up often, especially with people who were nearing the end of their lives. There were many ideas people had - some talked about a video or audio tape, some were more inclined to write letters and others wanted to gift something special to a person in their lifetime. I remember one woman saying that she wanted to give her grandchild a special necklace from her "living grandmother, not her dead one". As a young mother, immersed in a job where illness was commonplace and things happened to people regardless of age or circumstance, I decided to start creating a legacy for my family from when my children were born. Every year, on their birthday, I would write them a letter from me - I would talk about what they had done, learnt and accomplished in that year, how proud I was of them and how much I loved them. Some years those letters were long, other years, not so much, but I would always write that letter. Those letters went and still go in a box and one day, they will each get their own box to go through. Perhaps I am simply nostalgic; I think of it as something beyond that though, something that will give them a sense of history and belonging, perhaps at a time when they need it the most.

I wonder how many of our readers think about legacies and how to leave them for their loved ones. Would you consider making a video? Writing a letter? Recording your life history? Do you have seniors in your life who you would like to write out their family history? How important do you think this is?

We'd really like to hear from some of you about this topic!

Thursday, 2 May 2019

Relocation Fears

Our regular readers will know by now that relocation to a care setting is not something to be feared. There are several options, depending on need and finances and for many, concerns about safety, socialization, care and nutrition are quickly replaced with a new lease on life and improved health and well-being. That being said, many seniors and their families are concerned that such a significant move will prove to be a mistake.
From a family perspective, letting go of what may be a family home filled with memories and possessions can be daunting. As well, financial concerns abound especially when the choice is a private retirement setting that is without government subsidy or assistance. And finally, there is the fear that the person will decline because everything will be done for them and they will lose the will to be independent.
While its difficult to speak in generalities and everyone's experience is different, this last worry is usually completely unfounded and more often than not, with the environment in most retirement communities, people thrive and improve both mentally and physically, especially if they have been somewhat isolated and shut-in while living on their own. In addition,  the relationship between caregiver and senior will change for the better as their visits become actual visits rather than errands and household tasks that may have consumed their time together in the past.
Seniors who are relocating may share some of the same concerns as their family; downsizing can be a monumental task especially when one may have lived in the same home for decades. Financial issues often impact decision making as most are worried they will outlive their money or won't have anything left to will to their family. The other concern that often surfaces, especially if they have had regular visits from family members to assist with care or tasks, is that once they go into a care home, those visits will diminish.
In terms of the downsizing worry - it's important to separate memories from possessions - there are many ways to ease this process including, hiring a downsizing company to assist, passing down special items to loved ones (that they can 'visit') and photographing items in order to create a memory book, to name a few. Our latest edition of the Comprehensive Guide to Retirement Living available at no charge on our website at has information in Part 1 about downsizing and making the transition easier.
Finances are a common concern, especially since most seniors live on a limited budget. Often the sale of a family home is used to fund living in a private setting and the concern is that it will only last so long. For this issue, you should contact an investment advisor who can suggest ways in which to make your money last and calculate an affordable monthly budget to maximize your length of stay. Do keep in mind that if you require extra care or support in the future, the monthly costs may increase over time.
And finally, in terms of the worry a senior may have about less family visits, do everything you can to let them know that this is not the case. Visit often, take them out, involve them in family celebrations (if necessary hold celebrations at the retirement home), share information on the family and what is happening in everyone's life, take the kids to visit, stay for a meal and attend events in the home.