Somnambulism might be a strange sounding word, but it actually refers to the common sleeping disorder sleepwalking. Most of us have encountered it in some way or another, although patients usually don’t remember their sleepwalking episodes. Some find it funny to witness their partner wander around the house with an unblinking stare, trying to open an imaginary door with the clothes hanger. Others are bothered by this phenomenon, as the sleepwalker routinely wakes them up or causes injury with mad flailing. Nonetheless, sleepwalking may turn into a serious issue, especially for an elderly person.
Nighttime Autopilot Mode
Sleepwalking is classified as a disorder that occurs when someone walks or performs certain activities, even though they’re still sleeping. It’s commonly associated with kids, but every age group may experience it, including seniors. Each night, our body goes through several sleep cycles, divided into two categories. The first one involves rapid eye movement (REM) and this is when vivid dreaming occurs. Non-REM sleep often involves unwanted physical movement, such as kicking or flailing. It’s no big surprise that somnambulism is associated with the latter. Sleepwalking can be caused by several reasons: fatigue, anxiety, lack of sleep, alcohol or drug use. There are emotional, environmental or medical factors too. For example, patients suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder or dementia have a bigger chance of triggering somnambulism. These episodes usually come and go in our life, but if a patient experiences it on a regular basis, the best thing to do is to visit a doctor for a checkup or even visit a sleep lab for professional help.
Learn to Recognize a Sleepwalker
There are several signs indicating that someone is currently in sleepwalking mode. Roaming the house in total silence bumping into things usually gives the game away, but there are more subtle hints as well. Contrary to popular belief, sleepwalkers might answer your questions but say incoherent words unrelated to the inquiry. Violent outbursts or fits of panic might also happen. Interestingly, it can very well occur that the sleepwalker performs complex actions, such as creating and eating a sandwich or changing the position of the furniture. In some extreme cases they may even get in the car and drive away.
Preventing Injuries During Sleepwalking Episodes
In most cases somnambulism doesn’t require specific treatment. However, if an elderly person is suffering from it, consult your physician to review the medical history. It’s a common myth that a sleepwalker shouldn’t be awakened; although they may be confused and disoriented, it’s still better than letting them unintentionally walk into harm’s way. Aging persons suffering from somnambulism are especially accident prone, which justifies the purchase of some sort of protection.
You can opt either for a fall detection pendant or a bed alarm. The former is offered by several medical alert companies and a huge relief for both the patient and their family members. Bed alarms come in many flavors, some of them use motion detectors while others feature a pressure pad or pull cord to decide whether or not the patient has left the bed.
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