Weighted Blankets Help Dementia Patients

There are few people who don’t appreciate the coziness of a well-worn lap blanket at the end of the day. And a beloved blanket can almost always provide comfort to a child who’s feeling sad.

But a weighted blanket offers more than just warmth and comfort. For those with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s diseases, or other types of dementia, a weighted blanket can relieve anxiety and improve sleep quality. The heaviness of the blanket is reassuring, like the hug of a friend, and weighted blankets can help patients by providing soothing deep pressure stimulation.

Here’s what you need to know about the benefits of weighted blankets and how to pick one out:

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What is a weighted blanket?

A weighted blanket is more than just a heavy blanket. They’re generally a little smaller than a bedspread because they’re designed to fit someone’s body, not a bed. (Their own weight would make them slip off a bed.)

The blankets have weights sewn right into them—usually hypoallergenic plastic pellets so that the blanket can go through the washing machine. But a weighted blanket may be filled with dry rice or beans, glass or steel beads, or any small, pellet-like material that can weigh the blanket down without compromising its flexibility.

The weights are sewn evenly into the blanket so that they don’t all pool in one corner. This allows the blanket to provide deep pressure evenly.

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What does a weighted blanket do?

Similar to a massage, a weighted blanket offers deep pressure therapy, or deep pressure touch, which helps the body release serotonin. Deep pressure touch helps decrease anxiety, increase happiness, improve sleep, improve focus, improve someone’s ability to tolerate their current environment.

In an exploratory study, researchers found that 63 percent of study participants reported lower anxiety after using a weighted blanket, and 78 percent said the blankets were a preferred method of calming. The study was small, but it also determined that weighted blankets were safe for most users.

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Considerations When Choosing a Weighted Blanket

There are some contraindications for weighted blankets. Those with respiratory, circulatory, or temperature regulation issues should not use a blanket without talking to their doctor. Patients recovering from surgery should also consult with their physician before trying one.

Blankets vary in size; some are small lap pads while others are designed to cover the entire body. The blankets also vary in weight, and a good rule of thumb is to get a blanket that is about ten percent of the intended user’s bodyweight. Aim for slightly less than ten percent if the user is frail. Small lap pads will weigh less than 10 percent of bodyweight.

Weighted blankets are helpful for those with autism, anxiety, Alzheimer’s, dementia, and Parkinson’s, and they may help reduce aggression both by calming a person down and helping them get a good night’s rest.

Photo: Adobe Stock/jayfish

One drawback to weighted blankets is that they can be pricey, but they’re not hard to make (see detailed instructions here).

If you or a loved one deal with anxiety, for whatever reason, a weighted blanket is worth a try. Think of it as your personal, portable hug that will last just as long as you’d like.

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