Dementia patients are often susceptible to mood, behavioral, and physical health changes that are associated with changing seasons (i.e. from fall to late fall and winter). It is important for care providers of a loved one with dementia to understand how changing seasons can affect someone with dementia and what can be done to help prevent any concerns from developing.
Sundowning is a common symptom of dementia in which the individual’s mood and behavior begins to change as the sun goes down, especially when the seasons change and the amount of daylight decreases. Symptoms that may present while an individual with dementia is experiencing sundowning include:
Sundowning can occur during any stage of dementia. However, it is most common in patients who are in the middle stages. This condition can place a burden on caregivers right as they are in need of a break at the end of a day.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Explained
Seasonal affective disorder, also called SAD or seasonal depression, can be defined as a form of depression that occurs when the sun goes down earlier than usual during changing seasons; changing weather conditions may also play a role in the onset of seasonal affective disorder. Symptoms of SAD in dementia patients may include:
- Social withdrawal
- Cognitive disturbances
- Feeling hopeless
Being aware of seasonal affective disorder and watching for signs is important when caring for someone with dementia. The condition can be managed through self care, therapy, and medication.
Tips For Dealing With Changing Seasons When Caring For Dementia Patients
Changing seasons can be a real challenge for dementia patients and their caregivers, but the good news is the risk of complications can be reduced by understanding the signs and taking action if any concerns develop.
Specifically, it can help to ensure your loved one keeps a stable daily routine (especially at night), has a calm environment around the time of sunset, and gets the opportunity to spend time outside each day (or each week). Of course, it is also encouraged to work with care professionals (e.g. hospice or palliative care) who understand how to prevent and manage mood and behavioral changes when the seasons change.
Keep A Stable Routine
There is a tendency to want to change the routine of a loved one with dementia to compensate for the changing environment. However, it is important to keep following your loved one’s routine when the seasons change.
For example, if your loved one generally has dinner at 5:00 PM, watches television after dinner, and goes to bed by 8:00 PM, then it is important to continue this routine, rather than having them go to bed earlier since the sunset is much earlier in the evening. Although there may be an adjustment, keeping the same routine can help fight off a change in mood as the weather and time changes.
Keep a Calm Environment Close to Sunset
In addition to keeping a stable and consistent routine, it is also helpful to have your loved one do something calm in the evening close to sunset. For example, it may help to have your loved one listen to some calm music, enjoy a cup of tea, and work on a puzzle. This keeps their mind active and relaxed before bedtime, which can help prevent sundowning or seasonal affective disorder.
Spend Some Time Outside
Vitamin D levels are important for maintaining healthy melatonin levels, which are important for a good night of sleep each night. It is important for patients with dementia to get some sunlight each day. Ideally, this should include exercise if your loved one is able to do so safely.
An easy walk around the block is all that is usually needed. If exercise is not a viable option, then simply having a cup of tea on the patio is a great way to get vitamin D from sunlight and maintain a healthy and active daily routine that helps to fight off seasonal affective disorder or sundowning when the seasons change.
How Hospice Care Can Help Provide Care for Dementia Patients
Caring for a loved one with dementia is a lot of work and can be a huge burden to try and carry alone. Serving as the primary caregiver can cut into the meaningful time you could otherwise spend with your loved one. Due to this, it is recommended to consider how hospice care can benefit you and your loved one with dementia.
Contact Harbor Light Hospice to Get Started
Harbor Light Hospice offers hospice care for dementia patients, which includes assisting with needs associated with changing seasons. To learn more about hospice care and to find out if it is right for you and/or your loved one, then call our professional and experienced team today.