The short days, long nights, and cold weather of winter can be difficult for all of us. But for people living with dementia, who have limited agency and mobility, the effects can be profound.
Sundowning (anger, aggression, and irritation that occur at the end of the day) can worsen with the early sunsets and long periods of darkness in winter. And the combination of sundowning and Seasonal Affective Disorder (feelings of depression when the brain doesn’t get enough daylight) can further exacerbate symptoms.
Sleep patterns can also be affected as many dementia patients follow their internal body clock to sleep when it gets dark. Early bedtimes can lead to awake periods at night and poor sleep. Darkness and shadows can also cause visuospatial problems (when the brain is unable to make sense of the information it is taking in) and disorientation, further increasing anxiety and confusion.
While the season may be challenging for patients and their caregivers, there are ways to help make life a bit easier for everyone.
Make the most of natural daylight
Open shades and curtains and move seating areas next to windows. When the natural light starts to fade, turn on the lights. You can also place nightlights around the home for increased security and comfort. And always encourage dementia patients to sit or walk outside in the sun, even if it’s only for a few minutes a day.
Encourage exercise and regular movement
Even a few leg lifts and arm stretches every hour can do wonders for physical and mental health and, in turn, reduce stress. Physical activity can also boost circulation to help keep someone with dementia warm.
Keep the home warm and comfortable
Plug drafts and keep the thermostat at a comfortable temperature. It’s also important for people with dementia to have plenty of warm clothes, socks/slippers and gloves, even if the home feels warm. Poor circulation as we age can easily lead to cold hands and feet. And keep a blanket within easy reach in every room.
Keep up a regular routine
Maintaining a routine can reduce agitation in dementia patients. Set up times for regular meals, listening to music, enjoying a hot drink, napping, watching a favorite show, or talking on the phone—and stick to them as much as possible.