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Reasons Elderly Are Afraid To Be Alone At Night And How To Reduce Their Anxiety

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Psychological stress and dementia can lead seniors into being afraid at night time. Also, Sundown Syndrome (which is a group of symptoms that may occur if the senior is suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease) may also contribute to fears of being alone at night. Anxiety is another major contribute to night time fears for many seniors.

It’s quite common for many elderly people to become afraid to be alone at night, even in their own home. This may be because they may feel vulnerable and unprotected. They may also be worried about falling or medical conditions such as chest pain or other health issues.

It’s important for adult children to know that nighttime can be a difficult time for their elderly parents, as they may feel isolated and alone.

Elderly people should not be afraid to ask for help from family members, friends, or neighbors. Of course, one can also hire a professional caregiver to spend the nights as well.

In this article we’ll go over some of the reasons this may be happening and what family caregivers can do to help.

4 Things To Know About Your Elderly Parents’ Fear Of Being Alone At Night

1) Fear of being alone at night is a common feeling among older persons. Many feel helpless and vulnerable when they are left alone in the dark. Especially if they have recently lost their significant other.

2) There are some things that can be done to ease this fear. Leaving a light on or having a radio playing can help create a sense of security. Installing a security system may also help. I’ll go over some more of these types of tips further in this article.

3) If the fear of being alone at night is severe, it may be necessary to seek professional help. A therapist can help identify the root cause of the fear and work on addressing it.

4) There is no need to suffer from the fear of being alone at night. With some simple steps, it is possible to ease this anxiety and enjoy the peace of mind that comes with it.

Why Are Old People Scared Of Being Alone?

There are many elderly people who live alone, without any family or friends nearby to support them. While some may find this independence liberating, others may feel isolated and afraid.

In my experience, one of the biggest fears that an aging parent has besides falling is being alone at night. This fear can be caused by a variety of factors, including insecurity, anxiety, cognitive decline and paranoia.

Anxiety and Paranoia

For many elderly people, the night time is when their mind starts to wander and they begin to think about all of the things that could go wrong. They may worry about being burglarized, attacked, or even kidnapped.

These fears can become so overwhelming that they may start to experience severe anxiety or panic disorder. In some extreme cases, elderly people may become paranoid and start to believe that someone is watching them or trying to hurt them.

Often it seems that people’s fears fall into an “external” or “internal” category.  The anxiety sometimes centers around fears of “external” factors like home invasion or natural disasters and thus interventions that enhance home security or emergency readiness are most helpful.  Sometimes, the anxiety centers around “internal” factors such as a fear of falling or facing some sort of medical or household emergency is paramount.  Interventions that enhance emergency response are then most likely to be helpful. 

Dr. Robert A. Jack (taken from an interview)

Dr. Jack goes on to provide a possible solution which involves having a simple and soothing bedtime routine which may help to alleviate any anxiety they may be having.

Why Do Some Elderly People Become Paranoid?

There are a variety of factors that can contribute to paranoia in the elderly. In some cases, it may be due to a decline in cognitive function. This can make it difficult for them to process information and remember things, which can lead to confusion and fear.

Additionally, many elderly people suffer from loneliness and isolation, which can amplify their fears and make them more susceptible to paranoia.

Finally, some elderly people may have underlying medical conditions that can cause or contribute to paranoia, such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

Specific Phobias

A specific phobia is an intense, irrational fear of something that poses little or no actual danger. Specific phobias can be triggered by many different things, such as heights, insects, needles, flying, water, or confined spaces.

Many people with specific phobias go to great lengths to avoid the object or situation they fear. This can cause significant interference in daily life and can be very distressing.

For older adults, specific phobias may be more common than you think. In fact, research has shown that nearly 10% of people over the age of 65 suffer from at least one specific phobia. And, unfortunately, many of these individuals are afraid to seek help because they feel embarrassed or ashamed.

There are a number of factors and specific triggers that can contribute to the development of specific phobias in later life.

  • For example, older adults may have experienced a traumatic event involving the object or situation they now fear.
  • Or, they may have witnessed someone else having a negative experience with the feared object or situation.
  • Additionally, older adults may be more likely to develop phobias if they have a family history of anxiety disorders.

If you’re an older adult who suffers from a specific phobia, there are treatment options available that can help you manage your fear and live a normal life. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is one effective treatment option for phobias.

This type of therapy can help you to understand and change the thoughts and behaviors that contribute to your fear. Medications, such as beta-blockers, can also be used to help manage the physical symptoms of anxiety, such as a rapid heart rate and sweating.

Sleep Disturbance

There are many reasons why elderly people may experience sleep disturbance. It could be due to medications, underlying health conditions, or simply because they are not used to sleeping alone.

Changes in the body’s natural internal clock, causing some people to fall asleep earlier in the evening. Long-term (chronic) disease, such as heart failure. Certain medicines, herbs, supplements, and recreational drugs. Depression (depression is a common cause of sleep problems in people of all ages)

Medlineplus.gov

Also, I’ve personally noticed that as I’m getting older, I tend to have to go to the bathroom at least once during the night. That has certainly contributed to some of my own insomnia issues which can raise anxiety levels.

Anxiety is frequently connected to sleeping problems. Excess worry and fear make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep through the night. Sleep deprivation can worsen anxiety, spurring a negative cycle involving insomnia and anxiety disorders.

sleepfoundation.org

Social Isolation

As we age, it’s natural to become more socially isolated. We may retire from our jobs, our kids move away, and our friends pass away. This can leave us feeling lonely and disconnected from the world. For some elderly people, this social isolation can be compounded by physical isolation.

They may not be able to drive anymore or get around like they used to. This can make it difficult to get out and interact with other people.

Family caregivers can help their elderly loved ones combat social isolation by arranging for regular social interactions, whether it’s going to lunch or going for a walk in the park. They can also set up regular Skype, Facetime, Zoom or Amazon Echo Show video calls with friends and family members.

If you have an elderly loved one who is afraid of being alone at night, it’s important to try to understand their fear and help them to feel more comfortable.

I know for myself, being alone (especially at night) makes me feel very vulnerable. And when you’re old, your physical ability to defend yourself is greatly diminished. So it’s no wonder that many elderly people are afraid to be alone.

There are several other reasons why being alone can be scary for older people:

  1. They may have health problems that make them feel weaker and more vulnerable.
  2. Their hearing and vision may not be as good as it used to be, so they can’t see or hear as well.
  3. They may be taking medication that makes them feel drowsy or confused.
  4. They may have dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, which can make them feel confused and disoriented.
  5. They may live in a neighborhood that is not as safe as it used to be.

Any of these issues, and others can all contribute and amplify someone’s fears when they are home alone at night time.

Is Fear Of Being Alone At Night A Sign Of Dementia?

The short answer is that it may be, but don’t assume that if your elderly mother is afraid to be alone at night that she has dementia or some other type of cognitive impairment!

There are many reasons why elderly people may feel afraid at night. It could be due to changes in their sleep patterns, or because they are experiencing increased anxiety. It is also not uncommon for elderly people to have nightmares.

If your elderly parent is generally healthy and has no history of mental illness, then it is unlikely that their fear of being alone at night is a sign of dementia. However, if they are displaying other signs of dementia, such as memory loss or confusion, then this may be one symptom of their condition.

If you are worried that your elderly parent’s fear of being alone at night is a sign of dementia, the best thing to do is to talk to their doctor. They will be able to assess your parent’s condition and give you more specific advice.

Why Do Dementia Patients Get Scared At Night?

It’s not unusual for patients with dementia to experience behavioral changes such as increased anxiety and fearfulness at night. This is often referred to as “sundowning”.

Sundowning isn’t a disease, but a group of symptoms that occur at a specific time of the day that may affect people with dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease. The exact cause of this behavior is unknown.

mayoclinic.org

Although there’s no known reason as to why this is happening there are some possible causes cited by the National Institute on Aging

  • disturbance of one’s biological clock
  • hunger
  • thirst
  • depression
  • boredom
  • pain
  • overly tired

What Are The Early Signs Of Sundowners?

Sundowners is a common term used to describe the syndrome characterized by changes in mood and behavior that occur in the late afternoon or early evening.

People with sundowners may become agitated, confused, and disoriented. They may experience hallucinations and delusions.

There are a number of possible early signs of sundowners, which include:

  1. Increased agitation in the late afternoon or early evening.
  2. Hallucinations or delusions.
  3. Disorientation and confusion.
  4. Difficulty communicating.
  5. Changes in mood, such as becoming more irritable or anxious.

If you notice any of these changes in your loved one, it’s important to talk to their doctor. There are treatments available that can help manage the symptoms of sundowners and make life easier for both the person with the condition and their caregivers.

How Long Does Sundowning Last?

Unfortunately, just as there is no cure for dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, there is also no cure for sundowners syndrome.

While there is no cure, there are ways to manage the symptoms and make the condition more manageable. Here are some tips:

  • Create a routine and stick to it as much as possible. This can help reduce confusion and anxiety.
  • Make sure the person experiences regular exposure to natural light during the day.
  • Encourage moderate exercise during the day to help promote good sleep at night.
  • Limit caffeine and alcohol consumption.
  • Avoid large meals or spicy foods close to bedtime.
  • Establish a regular sleep schedule.
  • Try to create a calm and relaxing environment in the bedroom, such as dimming the lights and playing soft music, using aromatherapy.

If you’re considering any type of medication for sundowning issues, think twice. Speak to your doctor and perhaps get a second and third opinion. Medications are not usually the best course of treatment for this condition.

Sundowning is not simple anxiety – it is anxious agitation associated with a significant uptick in confusion.  The Valium class of medications will not be effective and often make sundowning only worse, probably by ADDING to confusion.  Medications from other classes of medications can be tried – again with a low dose and careful titration approach.  Time of administration is important.  The medication should be given in mid afternoon.  It is not at all meant to be sedating.  It is meant to be a preventative for agitation and there should be an hour or two to allow for the medication to be in place before the time of risk. 

Dr. Robert A. Jack (taken from an interview)

If you are concerned that someone you know is struggling with anxiety or depression, reach out to a mental health professional for help.

Learn a bit more about Sundowning Syndrome here.

What Are The Dangers Of Being Elderly And Alone At Night?

Of course, if your senior loved one does not have issues with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, they can certainly still be scared at night. And they can be legitimate reasons.

The elderly are at a heightened risk of being targeted by criminals. This is because they are often perceived as easy targets who are less likely to put up a fight or call for help.

Unfortunately, this means that the elderly are more vulnerable but, statistics show they are not the largest target for criminals.

the elderly have a lower probability of becoming victims of crime than do younger people. However, of the crimes they do experience, the elderly appear to be particularly susceptible to crimes motivated by economic gain such as robbery, personal and household larceny, and burglary.

United States Department of Justice

Being elderly and alone at night can also be dangerous in other ways. For example, if an elderly person falls and is unable to get up, they may be at risk of serious injuries or even death.

Additionally, many elderly people suffer from chronic health conditions that can make them more vulnerable to accidents or illnesses.

While there are steps that can be taken to stay safe at night, the best way to prevent being the victim of a crime is to avoid being alone at night. If possible, have someone stay with you or go out with a group of people.

Letting a trusted friend or family member know your plans can also help ensure your safety. Taking these precautions can help reduce the risk of becoming the victim of a crime.

I have a routine where every morning I send out a text to multiple people on my contact list. I do this as soon as I wake up. The rule is (as I told my contacts), if you don’t hear from me by 10:00 am come by or call for help!

How Can I Calm My Elderly Parent At Night?

There are several things you can do to ease your senior loved one’s fears and make nighttime a less scary time.

  • If they are afraid of the dark, a simple and good way to alleviate some of that fear is by leaving a light on in their room or bathroom. This is often helpful.
  • For some (like my mother) leaving the television on was important. She set it on a timer so it would turn itself off in 3 hours or so.
  • You can also try asking them to read or listen to calm music before bedtime to help them relax.
  • If they are afraid of intruders, make sure to invest in good locks for all the exterior doors and windows in their home. Make sure they are locked at bedtime.
  • Family caregivers may want to consider installing remote control door locks that can be locked via the app on their phones (if they don’t trust that their elderly parent will lock up at night.)
  • You might also want to invest in a security system with a panic button by the bed.
  • It’s not advisable (or sometimes practical) to rely on using a weapon such as a gun or knife or even a taser. Many older adults won’t be able to react quickly enough, or aim properly and may actually harm themselves.
  • If they are afraid of natural disasters, such as storms or earthquakes, there are steps you can take to prepare ahead of time.
  • Make sure they have an emergency kit ready in case of a power outage or other unforeseen event.
  • Make sure there is a working phone at bedside and that they know how to use it. An Alexa or Google Home device would work best here because they can simply use their voice to call for help.
  • Check in on them regularly, either in person or by phone.
  • Make sure their home is well-lit, both inside and out. Motion sensor lighting would be advisable.
  • If they can care for a dog, then get them a dog for protection.
  • Encourage them to participate in activities that will get them out of the house and interacting with other people. The more people they know, the wider the social support from people who can help them.
  • Teach your elderly parent some new skills. This can include things like how to use an emergency alert device, how to set up their security system, etc.
  • Keep emergency contact information handy in case they need to call for help. This way, you can always be there for them when they need you most.
  • If their fear is severe, you may need to consider hiring a caregiver to stay with them overnight.
  • Set up some type of routine so that you are alerted when they go to bed and then also alerted when they get up.
  • Social workers are often the first line of support for elderly people who are struggling with nighttime fears and isolation. They can help connect people to resources and support networks, and provide guidance on how to cope with these feelings.
  • If they’ve just moved in to a new home you may want to volunteer to spend the first few nights with them to help them ease into their new environment.
  • Numerous studies have shown that being physically active can help reduce anxiety and improve sleep quality. This is especially true for older adults, who may find it difficult to get enough exercise during the day.
  • A simple way to incorporate physical activity into the nighttime routine is to take a short walk around the block before bed. This will not only help the elderly person feel less alone, but will also tire them out so they can sleep more soundly.

By taking some simple precautions, you can make nighttime a less scary time and get a good night’s sleep.

Recommended Tools To Help You Stay Safe

These days, there are all sorts of gadgets that can help you stay safe. Here are a few that we recommend:

  • A home security system: This will give your elderly loved one the peace of mind of knowing that someone is always watching out for them.
  • A medical alert system: In case of an emergency, this will allow your loved one to immediately get the help they need.
  • A GPS tracker: This can be helpful if your loved one likes to go for walks or is at risk of wandering off.
  • A video monitoring system: This can provide an extra set of eyes to make sure your loved one is safe and sound.
  • Alexa devices: Amazon’s voice controlled assistant can be used to call for help, check the weather, and even turn on lights.
  • A fall detection mat: This can be placed near areas where your loved one is at risk of falling, such as in the bathroom or by the bedside.

The elderly are often afraid to be alone at night, as they are more vulnerable to danger and less able to defend themselves. This can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness, which can further compound the problem.

It is important to provide support for the elderly in our society, so that they can feel safe and secure. There are many ways to do this, such as providing home care services, organizing social activities, and simply being available to talk.

By helping the elderly to feel connected and supported, we can help them to live happier and healthier lives.

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