Most older people struggle with insomnia. As we age, our need for evening rest decreases significantly. However, more and more seniors are suffering from sleep problems. Moreover, behaviours typical of dementia (for example, sleepwalking) appear. All this leads to the elderly being dependent and requiring care. The most common form of treating dementia is pharmacology. Scientists decided to check how the weighted blanket works for this ailment and whether it can replace medication. To what conclusions did the specialists come? Weighted blankets reduce clinical signs of dementia!
Clinical trials in Japan
The effectiveness of weighted blankets used in people with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in Scandinavian countries and the USA began to attract the attention of Japanese doctors. Most often, these types of ailments are treated pharmacologically. However, the effectiveness of drugs is limited. Hence, non-pharmacological therapies are becoming increasingly popular. These therapies use lifestyle changes by eliminating naps, increasing activity, and using a weighted blanket.
Scandinavian researchers have proven that the stimulation of deep sensation causes the release of oxytocin (a happiness hormone), which calms the person down and activates the secretion of serotonin. The Japanese decided to test the effectiveness of the weighted blanket in people with dementia. They conducted a study involving an eighty-year-old woman with severe dementia who was a nursing home resident. She had Alzheimer’s disease and required treatment for a sleep disorder, sleepwalking, hallucinations, collecting items, and abnormal eating behaviour.
The effects of using a blanket
The woman had never been treated for sleep disorders, nor had she taken any sleeping pills or other medication. Her frequent wanderings at night disturbed the woman’s rest and were dangerous to her life and health. The medical staff always made sure she got back to bed. At first, the staff applied lifestyle change therapy. However, this only slightly prolonged the sleep phase, and the night hallucinations remained the same, which was very troublesome for the caregivers. Then, a weighted blanket was introduced, customized to the patient’s needs and the Japanese climate and style of sleep.
During the five months she used the blanket, a daily questionnaire was completed with the number of hours she slept and how many times she woke up during the night. Records show that after using the blanket, the number of hours of sleep increased and the frequency of waking up decreased. Initially, the woman slept for seven hours a night, but she slept eight hours after using the blanket for a month. After five months, she slept almost nine hours! The number of times she woke up and sleepwalked was reduced by 40%.
Opinion of the medical staff
Some of the medical personnel were sceptical about using a weighted blanket, but after seeing the effects, they are definitely willing to use this treatment. The interviewed caregivers agree that thanks to this therapy, the woman became more active during the day, participated more willingly in classes, reduced sleepwalking, and had significant changes in behaviour. She went to her bedroom by herself when she felt sleepy and did not require extensive care from the medical staff anymore.
The weighted blanket is a medical product that reduces day and night rhythm reversal symptoms and improves the quality of life in people struggling with dementia. It is also an alternative to drug therapy and a way to improve sleep. There is an increasing number of scientific studies that confirm the effectiveness of weighted blankets. It is worth noting that studies show that the initial effects of using the weight were visible after a month, but results depend on individual circumstances.
The article was based on the research of Dr Mio Nakamura OTR PhD, Department of Human and Engineered Environmental Studies, Graduate School of Frontier Sciences, The University of Tokyo, 5-1-5 Kashiwanoha, Kashiwa, Chiba, 277-8589, Japan.