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What Can Cause Night Terrors in the Elderly?

Though only 2-3% of adults experience night terrors and most of them are much younger than senior age, there are still times when an elderly person can develop this sleep disorder. To ensure you can help your senior loved one if he or she faces this situation, Las Vegas home care experts have put together a list of possible causes for night terrors.


Seniors with advanced dementia often experience sundown syndrome, which is characterized by increased confusion and agitation during the late afternoon and evening hours. Individuals with sundown syndrome frequently experience hallucinations that disrupt the normal sleep pattern and lead to night terrors. Since over-the-counter sleep aids can actually make sundowning symptoms worse, talk to your loved one’s doctor about prescribing medications that can lessen anxiety and help promote sleep.


Elderly people sometimes experience night terrors following surgical procedures. This is due to the lingering effects of anesthesia on the central nervous system. These effects may last for several months but typically resolve on their own. In the meantime, make sure your loved one remains safe by removing items from his or her room that could be used for self-injury or to injure others during an episode.


Antidepressants and narcotic pain medications that affect brain chemistry can trigger night terrors. If your loved one experiences night terrors or any other side effect of these drugs, you should talk to a physician about an alternative. You should never stop these medications, especially antidepressants, without a doctor’s supervision. Stopping an antidepressant abruptly can lead to adverse changes in your loved one’s mental state, including suicidal thoughts or actions.

Underlying Health Conditions

Many seniors have underlying health conditions that can interrupt the natural sleep cycle, such as obstructive sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, and overactive bladder syndrome. The combination of sleep deprivation and abnormal sleep patterns can trigger night terrors. The night terrors typically go away once the underlying health condition is addressed.


Some seniors are faced with anxiety and depression brought on by stress, which can result from the loss of a spouse, living with chronic health conditions, and financial concerns. Depression and anxiety can lead to a variety of sleep disturbances, including night terrors. Antidepressant and antianxiety medications and counseling are often effective in reducing stress levels and helping with sleep.

At Home Care Assistance, we understand sleep is important for everyone’s health, and it can be difficult for family members to stay by their loved one’s bedside at night. With the help of our part-time and live-in caregivers, your loved one can fall asleep knowing someone is available if he or she needs assistance. Our caregivers are also expertly trained to assist with many tasks during the waking hours, including bathing, cooking, and cleaning. For seniors who need more extensive assistance, we also offer specialized Parkinson’s, stroke, and dementia care in Las Vegas. Call one of our qualified Care Managers today at (702) 550-3185 for more information on our senior care services.