Dementia and Dreams

Certain kinds of dementia are linked to active dreaming. In her current stage of dementia, my mom dreams a lot. Sometimes it’s hard to know if she’s truly asleep, or just in some kind of altered state. At night, she’ll wave her hands and utters sounds that give you the impression she’s talking with someone while she dreams. I wish I could know what she’s seeing.

Dementia and Dreams

Mom’s sleep behavior makes me very curious. Her original diagnosis did not focus on Lewy Body dementia. But people with this type of dementia dream in motion, something Mom now does all the time. She reaches her hands high in the air as if she’s about to grab something. Her fingers wiggle around like she’s casting a spell or inviting someone to come closer. It’s a mysterious gesture that makes you want to know what’s going on in her mind.

The Alzheimer’s Association says that in “about 50 percent of cases of Dementia with Lewy Bodies, people experience something called rapid eye movement (REM) sleep disorder. ” Most of us experience our dreams while we are in the REM stage of sleep. If we are enjoying normal REM sleep, the movement of our body is blocked and we don’t physically act our our dreams. With Lewy Bodies dementia, however, people act out their dreams with vivid movements that can even turn violent in some cases.

My mom is not violent and has never done anything worse than pinch me — which can happen when she has muscle spasms. But one night last week I saw my mother reaching up from her bed with one hand so she could slap her other wrist which was extended high in the air. She hit herself five or six times and it was loud enough for me to hear it in another room.

I really do wonder what my mom dreams about at this unusual stage of her life.  If I asked her to slap one hand with the other when she was awake, she wouldn’t have the coordination to do it. Does that mean she can control her body better while she’s asleep? Do her memories float back to her when her conscious mind sleeps? Do her dreams include wishes like getting married or falling in love — or do they focus on conflicts?

I entertain myself coming up with ideas about what she might be seeing. Perhaps she’s dreaming that one day she’ll grow up and have a daughter. That dream is the one most likely to come true.

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