A weighted blanket is a heavy blanket that is filled with hypoallergenic, nontoxic plastic pellets. Research has shown that a weighted blanket is a simple option not using medication to reduce anxiety and aggression, to calm nerves, to provide comfort and to promote sleep.

A weighted blanket can weigh anywhere from 5 to 25 pounds, but the general rule of thumb is to use a blanket around 10 percent of the user's body weight, depending on the person's needs and preferences.

The blanket should be sized to fit the person's body, not the bed as a weighted blanket that hangs over the side of the bed will eventually drop to the floor. The heaviness of the blanket provides deep pressure therapy. When the body feels the gentle pressure from the blanket, it produces serotonin, which improves mood and promotes calm as well as it decreases stress and anxiety. Data obtained on the effectiveness of using weighted blankets reported a 63 percent lower anxiety level after use and that 78 percent of users preferred using the blanket as a calming modality. 

Weighted blankets also have sleep-inducing qualities, as they help the nervous system calm down. For the person with Alzheimer's or dementia, restlessness and insomnia often occur, and lack of a good night's sleep can be the root causes of agitated behaviors during the day. The blanket can help them relax and get a good night's rest.

There are various weighted blankets on the market. The two main things to look for are the type of fabric and weights used. Fabric is a personal preference, particularly with some people who have sensory issues. The weights used by most companies safe materials, such as poly-pellets, glass beads, steel shot beads or even rice or barley.

Additionally, look at the distribution of weight in the blanket and how it is maintained — is it machine washable or does it has to be dry cleaned? Some of the companies that offer weighted blankets are BlanQuil, Gravity Blanket, Mosaic Weighted Blankets and SensaCalm.

Before purchasing a weighted blanket, be aware of any medical conditions that might make it unsafe to use it. Those with respiratory, circulatory or temperature regulation issues, or those recovering from surgery, might not be able to use a weighted blanket, so always consult a physician before purchase and use.

Questions about Alzheimer's disease or related disorders can be sent to Dana Territo, the Memory Whisperer, a volunteer ambassador with Alzheimer's Services of the Capital Area, at thememorywhisperer@gmail.com, or visit the organization at 3772 North Blvd., Baton Rouge.