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Daylight Savings Time Can Have Big Impact on those with Dementia

Clock confusion is upon us. For the average person, changing the clocks for day light savings can have effects on the body. Imagine what the additional effects for someone who is already experiencing confusion, someone who may have Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia.

On average, when we move our clocks back one hour, at 2:00 a.m. in November and then ahead one hour in March, it can effect each of us. That effect depends on a few factors: on an individual’s age, work schedule, and their eating and sleeping schedule. Although we are only shifting our time pieces by an hour, our internal clocks have to make a shift as well.

David Earnest, Professor of Neuroscience and Experimental Therapeutics at Texas A&M University, states that sleep-wake cycles change with age. As a result, those adults 62 or older can face additional struggles due to the change in the time. We may see this in going to bed earlier, interrupted sleep, waking up in the night, and possible difficulty going back to sleep.

While the typical person can make adjustments, even if it takes a day or two, this is not as easily accomplished for someone with dementia. It is common for someone with Alzheimer’s disease to experience a syndrome called Sundowning. The changes in the fading light, typically in late afternoon or early evening, can create changes in behaviors.

These behavior may include (but are not limited to):

  • Agitation

  • Restlessness

  • Irritability

  • Confusion

  • Suspicion

  • Disorientation

  • Frustration

Also, this can result in other demanding behaviors, such as yelling, pacing, mood swings, along with misinterpretations or hallucinations.

Changing the external clocks, coupled with the internal clock changes, can really effect the wake-sleep cycle in people with dementia.

There are a few things you can do to help reset one’s circadian rhythms. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Let more light in, increase the lighting in the home, especially beginning in the mid-to-late afternoon and into the early evening

  • Use of full-spectrum lights

  • Provide ample activity throughout the day for better sleeping in the night

  • Limit daytime napping

  • Provide the largest meal at lunchtime

  • Stimulating or cognitive activities are best performed late morning and early-mid afternoon

  • Offer physical exercise and activities in mid-to-late afternoon, but no later than 4 hours before bedtime

Work toward these adjustments if you are care partnering with an individual who exhibits behaviors, especially when the lighting is changing. Learn if the trigger can be related to an unmet need, such as hunger or thirst, tiredness, depression, boredom, discomfort or pain, and provide for that need.

It’s time to increase your master detective skills and create the best quality of life for all those involved. Don’t let Daylight Savings time leave you in the dark.

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