Research aims to improve sleep for people with dementia

Leicester expertise in behavioural science will feed into a research programme helping to find new ways of supporting people with dementia who experience problems with sleep.

Across the world, around 55 million people have dementia. Up to 90% of them experience problems sleeping.

Both too much and too little sleep are common, and can have significant impacts on health, leading to falls, or worsening existing symptoms and increasing death rates. Commonly used sleeping tablets can also be particularly harmful to people with dementia.

Dr Sion Scott combines clinical practice at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust with lecturing in Behavioural Medicine at the University of Leicester.

He will work with the TaIlored ManagEment of Sleep (TIMES) research team, led by the University of Exeter, to use behaviour change theory to understand the challenges to improving sleep for people with dementia and to design solutions.

The study will look to provide support for patients – both those living at home and in care homes – by developing a tool to help people with dementia and other memory problems, by producing care plans that are tailored to individual needs.

Funded with £2.4 million from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), the team combines expertise from the universities of Exeter, Oxford, Hull and Leicester, working with University College London, Aston University, and the University of East Anglia, alongside Innovations in Dementia.

Dr Sion Scott, Lecturer in Behavioural Medicine at the University of Leicester, said: “The application of behaviour change theory to understand how best to support people with dementia who experience problems with sleep is particularly novel. This approach helps us to understand the things that can help and hinder healthcare professionals to effectively treat sleep problems. We can then design tailored strategies to address these things.

“We then hope to package the strategies together into a toolkit that can be used in clinical practice to help patients, carers and professionals produce tailored care plans that meet the sleep-related needs of people with dementia or memory problems and their carers, whilst reducing harm from sleeping medicines.”

Study lead Professor Chris Fox, from the University of Exeter, said: “Sleep disturbance can have a major impact on daily living for people living with dementia or memory problems, and can make it difficult for carers to cope. Many different factors can upset sleep, so help needs to be tailored to individuals.

“Medicines help some people, but sleep medicines used long-term can be harmful or stop working. Our study will help people find the best approach for them.”