Weighted Blankets For Better Sleep In Dementia Sufferers
Sleep problems are very common in older people who are living with dementia and can markedly affect their quality of life and that of those who care for them. They may sleep during the day, have problems in getting off to sleep at night or wake during the night feeling disorientated or confused. Dementia sufferers may also experience anxiety and agitation during the day that is difficult to calm.
Weighted blankets and weighted lap pads can be useful in promoting rest and reducing anxiety and have the benefit of alleviating distressing symptoms without using drugs. If your loved one has disturbed sleep or agitation and there is no physical cause, it can often be worthwhile trying a weighted blanket or lap pad. However, they are not suitable for people with certain medical conditions such as circulatory or respiratory problems or difficulty in temperature regulation. It is advisable to check with the person’s doctor whether it using a weighted blanket would be safe for them.
Why Do Weighted Blankets and Lap Pads Relieve Anxiety?
Studies into the use of deep pressure therapy have indicated that serotonin is produced in the body when gentle pressure is applied. The weight of the blanket or lap pad provides the pressure. Serotonin causes the person to become calmer and generally improves their mood. In a 2008 study, a 30lb weighted blanket was tried with 32 adults, 63 per cent of whom reported reduced anxiety levels after its use. A further study conducted in 2012 confirmed that distress and visible signs of anxiety were decreased successfully with the use of the blankets. At night time a weighted blanket can be used to provide deep pressure, helping the person to relax and sleep better. Anxiety during the day can be calmed using a weighted lap pad also providing deep pressure.
How Heavy Should a Weighted Blanket Be?
This really depends on the individual it is to be used for. A usual weight of blanket for an adult would be between fifteen and thirty pounds. The blanket should weigh around ten per cent of the person’s body weight plus an extra one or two pounds. For frailer people the blanket should be a little lighter.
Because lap pads only cover a relatively small area of the body, they weigh considerably less – usually between two and five pounds.
Making a Weighted Blanket
Weighted lap pads and blankets are available commercially, but it is also possible to make one yourself. The main advantage of this, apart from cost, is that they can be customised to suit the individual needs of the person with dementia.
Various different fabrics can be chosen and different filler materials can be used. The size and weight of the blanket or lap pad can be adjusted to suit the individual. Possible filling materials include rice, beans and plastic pellets. Although rice and beans are the cheapest option, plastic pellets are probably preferable because using these will make the whole blanket washable. You would need to make a removable cover if using rice or beans.
There are various tutorials available online with instructions on making weighted blankets. The important thing is to make separate pockets so that the weight of the filling can be spread evenly across the whole blanket or lap pad.