Do Weighted Blankets Help Dementia Patients?

In the last few years, weighted blankets have surged in popularity. The reason why is simple; they're an easy, at-home therapy that's been proven to help with a wide range of health conditions. From anxiety to insomnia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and even autism spectrum disorder (ASD), weighted blankets have shown to be very helpful.

One question that many have asked, however, is do weighted blankets help dementia patients? The answer, according to several research studies, is a resounding yes. For men and women suffering from dementia and Alzheimer's disease, a weighted blanket has many benefits, as well as benefiting their family members also. In this article, we'll take a closer look at why weighted blankets are helpful when a person is suffering from dementia. We'll also look more closely at how they work. Plus, we'll give tips on how to choose a weighted blanket for a family member who's suffering from this dreaded condition.

What Symptoms Do Dementia & Alzheimer's Disease Cause?

The symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer's Disease are relatively similar and include memory loss, confusion, and slowed thinking processes. Both can also cause other symptoms like mood swings, increased stress, and confusion. As dementia advances, it can lead to more severe symptoms including disorientation, behavior changes, and serious memory loss.

Of all the symptoms, the most troubling for family members is to watch their loved ones get agitated and anxious, often for seemingly innocuous reasons. Both cause the person suffering from dementia to have a difficult time sleeping (i.e. insomnia). If one of your family members is suffering from dementia or Alzheimer's, you know all too well that it causes a vicious cycle. Your loved one can't sleep and so, during the day, they are even more agitated and anxious. This in turn makes sleeping even more difficult.

Keeping a family member with dementia calm and tranquil is one of the goals of caring for them. The problem is that many times this can't be accomplished without some type of medicine. The problem with medicine is that it tends to make a person listless. They can sap their energy and, frankly, it's very depressing to see. That's why many people today are looking for better solutions to help their family members with dementia and Alzheimer's disease. Something that will help keep their loved ones calm and anxiety-free without putting them into a medically-induced stupor.

What Is a Weighted Blanket?

While a weighted blanket may look more or less like a regular blanket it has a few distinct differences. First of all, they're a bit smaller than a regular blanket. Normally, weighted blankets do not hang over the side of whatever bed they're being used on. That's because they aren't designed to fit the bed but rather to fit the person who's using the weighted blanket.

The biggest difference, however, is that weighted blankets, as the name suggests, weigh a good bit more than a regular blanket. They can weigh 3 to 4 times as much as a regular blanket (although their specific weight will usually depend on the person using them).

The reason weighted blankets weigh more is that, sewn inside of them, is a special filling material put there specifically to add extra weight. This filling is usually made from hypoallergenic plastic pellets. That way, it can be washed in a regular washing machine. However, you can find weighted blankets filled with dried rice, glass beads, steel beads, or even dried beans. Any pellet-like material that adds weight without compromising flexibility can be used in a weighted blanket.

Flexibility is the key here because, even though they weigh more, you still want a weighted blanket to envelop the person using them as much as possible. In effect, this is what provides the benefits of a weighted blanket. (More on why in just a moment.) In short, a weighted blanket:

  • Is smaller than a regular blanket.
  • Is made to fit the person, not the bed.
  • Weighs quite a bit more than a regular blanket.
  • Is filled with a special filling material to make it heavy but keep it flexible.

How Do Weighted Blankets Help Dementia Patients?

As we mentioned earlier, people suffering from dementia and Alzheimer's disease are often agitated and anxious. This can cause major disturbances to their sleep patterns and make it hard for them to achieve deep, relaxing sleep. The reason that weighted blankets have become popular for helping dementia patients is that they offer a simple, non-drug solution that can be used at home without a doctor's prescription.

Weighted blankets work by creating something called DTP or deep touch pressure. This is a type of pressure that's been used for therapy for quite some time. Think of it like giving someone an extended, full-body hug. The weighted blanket envelops their entire body and "hugs" it, creating this deep touch pressure throughout. What happens next is amazing; the brain releases a neurotransmitter called serotonin. Often referred to as the "happy hormone", serotonin creates a sense of calm and well-being in a person's body and mind.

Weighted blankets have also been shown to produce a process known as "grounding" by pushing a person's body downwards with their extra weight. This process has been known to have a deeply calming effect on most people. This, in turn, helps them to fall asleep faster and get their all-important REM or deep sleep also.

For people suffering from dementia and Alzheimer's, the effects of a weighted blanket can be almost miraculous. It helps to calm their mind greatly and allows them to sleep much better. This in turn greatly reduces their anxiety and irritability during the day. Some people suffering from dementia and Alzheimer's use their weighted blankets during the day as well to stay calm and relaxed. The best part is that, unlike taking drugs to produce the same effect, your loved one will still be alert and able to communicate.

What Does the Research say About Weighted Blankets and Dementia?

For some, the thought of something as simple as a heavier blanket helping a person with dementia or Alzheimer's might seem a bit ludicrous. However, several studies have shown that they do indeed provide a lot of relief. For example, a study from 2008 showed that they were highly effective (and very safe) for decreasing anxiety. The results of this study showed that;

  • 63% of the people studied reported that their anxiety levels were lower after using a weighted blanket
  • 78% preferred the weighted blanket as a method of staying calm
  • 33% showed lower electrodermal activity. (This is the activity of the skin which, in effect, is associated with emotions.)

Another study in 2012 showed very similar results. People involved in the study who used a weighted blanket were shown to have significantly reduced stress and anxiety. Indeed, the report concluded that "weighted blankets appear to be particularly useful."

Several clinical studies have shown that weighted blankets help adults suffering from dementia to fall asleep faster and sleep longer. Also, they reduce the amount of cortisol released in the body, a hormone that has long been associated with stress.

And still another study in 2015 showed weighted blankets have a positive effect on people suffering from insomnia, which is a big problem for dementia patients. It found that using a weighted blanket helped test subjects to sleep easier, calmer and longer, and feel more refreshed when they woke up. Their conclusion stated that "A weighted blanket may aid in reducing insomnia through altered tactile inputs, thus may provide an innovative, non-pharmacological approach and complementary tool to improve sleep quality."

How To Purchase a Weighted Blanket For a Loved One with Dementia

The biggest factor when purchasing a weighted blanket for someone suffering from dementia is their body weight. That's because a weighted blanket should be about 10% of a person's body weight, give or take a few ounces. For example, a person who weighs between 120 pounds at 130 pounds would need a weighted blanket that weighs between 12 pounds and 13 pounds. Remember, it needs to be enough weight to produce the deep touch pressure (DTP) we talked about earlier.

That being said, you don't want to purchase a weighted blanket that's unmanageable. For example, if the family member using it wants to throw it aside at night, they should be able to do this easily. Also, remember that the weighted blanket doesn't need to hang over the bed where it will be used. (in fact, it shouldn't hang over the edge at all.)

You can also purchase much smaller weighted blankets that your loved one could use while sitting up during the day or while traveling. These can be very helpful, for example, to drape over their legs or wrap them up during takeoff and landing to keep them calm. In short, wherever you get your weighted blanket, be sure to check the weight and sizes before purchasing.

In Conclusion

Do weighted blankets help dementia patients? The answer is a definite yes. If you have a loved one in your family who's suffering from dementia or Alzheimer's disease, a weighted blanket can offer a lot of relief. They've been shown to reduce anxiety, stress, and insomnia significantly. Even better, they're an easy to use, drug-free solution to and unfortunately common health problem.