Non-drug options to reduce anxiety in dementia

Alzheimer’s and dementia often cause older adults to feel agitated, anxious, or have disturbed sleep.

A weighted blanket or lap pad is a simple, non-drug option that can be used day or night. They reduce anxiety, calm nerves, provide comfort, and promote deep sleep.

We explain why weighted blankets and lap pads help seniors with dementia, share tutorials on making your own, and help you find good ones to buy.

weighted blankets in dementia careWhat a weighted blanket looks like


Why weighted blankets in dementia care work

Weighted blankets in dementia care may sound silly, but they’ve been scientifically proven to relieve anxiety.

The heaviness of the blanket provides something called deep pressure therapy. When the body feels the gentle pressure, it produces serotonin. That improves mood and promotes calm.

2008 study showed that weighted blankets were a safe and effective therapy for decreasing anxiety. These results were later confirmed in a 2012 study that found weighted blankets successfully decreased distress and visible signs of anxiety.

Use a weighted blanket day or night

A weighted blanket for deep pressure therapy can be used anytime – day or night.

If your older adult wakes frequently during the night, consider a weighted blanket that covers their body. The blanket will help them relax and improve sleep quality.

If your older adult is anxious or agitated during the day, use a weighted lap pad for the same calming and soothing effect in a more convenient, compact size.


Certain health issues may make weighted blankets unsafe

Since older adults often have serious medical conditions, we recommend asking a doctor or occupational therapist if a weighted blanket is safe to use.

People with respiratory, circulatory, or temperature regulation problems may not be able to use a weighted blanket or lap pad. It may also not be safe if your older adult is in recovery from surgery.


How heavy should the blanket be?

The weight of the blanket depends on your older adult’s weight and physical condition.

The typical blanket weight for adults is about 15 to 30 pounds. The standard guideline is that a blanket should be about 10% of your older adult’s body weight, plus 1 or 2 pounds. You’ll probably need to lower that estimate if they’re frail.

Since lap pads cover a smaller area, the typical weight is about 2 to 5 pounds.


If you’re interested in making your own custom-sized weighted lap pad or blanket, keep reading. Otherwise, click here to skip to the next section and find out where you can buy one.


Make your own DIY weighted lap pad or blanket

If you enjoy crafts or sewing, you can easily make your own weighted lap pad or blanket. We’ve rounded up 4 helpful free online tutorials.

Use the tutorials as a guideline and customize the size, weight, filler material, and fabric to suit your older adult’s needs. The most important thing to remember is to divide the filler weight evenly across the entire blanket.

If you use rice or beans for the filling instead of plastic pellets, make sure to have a removable outer cover so you can wash it. Using plastic pellets as filler makes the whole blanket washable, but the pellets are more expensive than rice or beans.

Note: Weighted blankets are sized to fit the user, not the bed. See size guidelines here.

1. No-sew weighted lap pad
This is a good tutorial for an easy, no-sew weighted lap pad that has the added bonus of a “mermaid” cover that provides additional sensory stimulation.

You could easily substitute a plain fabric pillow cover or attach fiddle items to keep restless hands occupied. Get the tutorial 

2. No-sew weighted lap pad or blanket
This tutorial shows how to make a no-sew weighted lap pad or blanket. The size is flexible, make it as large or small as you like.

Even though the tutorial uses rice to fill the bags, you could use beans or plastic pelletsinstead. See the tutorial part 1 and part 2 

3. Pillowcase weighted lap pad (sewing required)
This is a great project because it’s made out of a pillowcase. You could make the weighted part out of one pillowcase and use another one for a washable cover.

She’s divided the pillowcase into 8 columns and 8 rows, but you could probably get away with fewer if you’d like to simplify. Watch the tutorial 

4. Simple “quilted” weighted lap pad or blanket (sewing required)
This video tutorial clearly walks through each step of making a weighted lap pad or blanket in the size that works for your older adult.

To simplify this project, skip the quilting part and just use a solid piece of fabric for the top.

We especially like that the video walks you through challenges that might come up in the project and has pro tips to help you avoid problems like broken needles, etc. Get the tutorial 

5. Weighted blanket for hot weather (sewing required)
When the weather is hot, a standard weighted blanket doesn’t work for sleep. In that case, you could make a cooler one out of two sturdy sheets instead of the thicker blanket material.

We couldn’t find a tutorial specifically for this, but you could follow the instructions in the video for #3 above and substitute bedsheets for the front and back material. See the quilted weighted lap pad or blanket tutorial