Has Mom or Dad complained about not being able to sleep because their legs seem restless, and they just can't get a good night's sleep?
Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a rather common disorder for the elderly that may cause a sense of annoying or frustrating sensations and feelings in the legs when lying down. This syndrome is not quite the same as other movement disorders such as periodic limb movement disorder, or PLMD, which causes regular leg jerking or twitching movements that are obvious and apparent, often jarring the individual as well as sleeping partners awake.
For some reason, this syndrome is more frequently diagnosed in women than men, and the condition is fairly common to individuals reaching middle age or their senior years.
Restless legs syndrome comes with a variety of symptoms, though some individuals may feel some and not others, and vice versa. One of the most common symptoms of this syndrome is a sensation of something crawling on the legs. While not pleasant to think about, the sensation, similar to that of a spider's crawl, will not physically harm the senior. Others often describe feelings of an aching or mild burning sensation, while others feel as if certain parts of their legs are being tugged.
Most people experience the symptoms of RLS in their lower limbs, and the sensation seems to come not on the surface of the skin, but from deep inside the leg, near the bones. For some individuals, the sensation is merely annoying, while for others the symptoms can be painful. Symptoms also come and go, and weather, exercise, or most daily activities don't seem affect, increase or decrease symptoms in most individuals.
To date, doctors don't know the cause of RLS, although they do note that risks may increase with a family history of the condition, as well as its increased risk in individuals with low iron levels or those who have been diagnosed with anemia. Doctors also believe that certain conditions such as Parkinson's disease, peripheral neuropathy and diabetes may also contribute to the condition.
Doctors offer a number of diagnostic measures and treatment plans for those diagnosed with RLS, which may include mild lifestyle changes to vitamin and mineral supplements to prescribe medications, depending on the severity of the condition. For some individuals, possible complications of the condition may lead to a sense of chronic fatigue and weariness. Symptoms may worsen with age, and treatment may be adapted to such changes.
While there is no cure for RLS, caregivers should be aware that the symptoms are typically not chronic. Symptoms may disappear for weeks or months at a time, and then return. Medications may work for one individual and not another, so work closely with your parents' doctor to determine the most effective treatment plan for them. Non-medication suggestions for the treatment of the syndrome include trying to go to bed and rising at the same time, and if you smoke or drink alcohol, quit. For some seniors, massaging the legs, using a heating pad or on ice pack helps relieve mild to moderate symptoms, and others do quite well following a hot bath. (Make sure water isn't so hot that it will scald).
Mild to moderate exercise is also recommended to encourage sleep, though doctors caution against excessive amounts of exercise, which may serve to worsen symptoms. If you or a family member has experienced symptoms of this syndrome, discuss possible treatments or remedies to encourage a good night's sleep for your loved one.
While you may suspect restless legs syndrome, schedule a visit with your parent's physician for a definitive diagnosis and follow the doctor's advice regarding treatment plans. Treatment plans generally start with non-medication or natural methods to reduce symptoms, though for individuals who don't respond to such therapies or methods, prescription medication may be offered.
NOTE: This article is not meant to diagnose or treat this condition. ALWAYS talk to your medical professional about any symptoms or concerns you may have regarding RLS.