- Kathryn Watson
Winter Blues and Dementia
The winter months bring more than just a drop in temperature—they have a significant impact on the cognitive abilities of older adults. The wet and cold weather induces winter blues that often manifest in the form of increased agitation among people with dementia, a phenomenon we call seasonal affective disorder.
If you see your loved ones with dementia battling depression and enhanced memory loss during the winter months, don’t worry. Read this guide to learn how you can care for them more effectively.
Effects of Winter on Dementia Patients
Studies purport that seasonal changes clinically affect people with AD pathology. Aging adults are bound to experience worsened cognitive skills during winter, and this naturally has a more profound impact on those already suffering from conditions with a cognitive impairment like dementia.
Here are some common effects people with dementia may experience during winter:
Winter months see reduced sunlight, and this dark and gloomy weather can aggravate depression. Now, the problem is that depression is already common among people with dementia and other memory-related problems. Depression is 30% prevalent in adults with vascular dementia, so its symptoms tend to worsen during winter.
Sundowning, as the name suggests, induces increased restlessness, irritability, and agitation as the sun goes down, especially during later afternoon and evening. As winter months are dark and dreary, this problem is even more prevalent in dementia patients during winter. This may be because the seasonal change interferes with a dementia patient’s biological clock, leading to confusion and tetchiness.
Interferes with Vision
Dementia affects a person’s visuospatial abilities, which include our ability to see and perceive things. Increased darkness during winter can cause disorientation among dementia patients. They might start to imagine seeing images, which causes increased agitation and confusion.
How to Help a Dementia Patient During Winter?
Given the toll winter months take on dementia patients, it is not easy for their caregivers, family, and friends to deal with them.
Here are a few tips to care for dementia patients during the wet and cold winter months.
1. Get Out in the Sun to Beat Those Winter Blues
If you’re taking care of a dementia patient, make sure you take them out during the day to increase their exposure to sunlight. Even a ten-minute walk in the sun will help boost their mood and alleviate symptoms of depression. You may also consult a doctor to start giving them vitamin D supplements during winters.
2. Do Not Serve Caffeine Late in the Day
If you want to alleviate Sundowning, avoid serving any caffeine-infused drinks like coffee and tea to dementia patients later in the day. Chocolate has caffeine too. So it should also be avoided. Caffeine will make them jittery and may aggravate the common effects of Sundowning like restlessness and agitation.
3. Mild Exercise
Depression is a common problem during winter. If you’re caring for a dementia patient, try to coax them into mild exercises, like a short walk. This will release feel-good hormones that will help improve their mood and behavior, making it easier to interact with them.
Dealing with dementia patients during the winter months can be draining for their caregivers. However, understanding what they are feeling will help you relay the best care to them, so they don’t spiral down a web of depression and anxiety.
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