If you or your loved one has dementia, you know how important it is to establish a firm and reliable routine. Having a routine or schedule can keep those with dementia on track and even improve their quality of life. However, changing seasons can impact dementia patients greatly, especially the transition from fall to winter. Although it may seem insignificant, this can disrupt your daily plans and lead to an increase in dementia symptoms such as confusion, irritability and wandering. This is known as sundowning and it affects the daily life of those who have dementia. By understanding the causes and treatments of this experience, you can better manage such symptoms during the wintertime. Read on to learn more about seasonal sundowning and dementia!
What is Sundowning?
As the seasons change, we receive less sunlight during the day. For many people, this may seem normal. But the increased duration of darkness can cause greater irritability and confusion for patients with dementia. Sundowning usually starts once the sun has set, when the circadian rhythm of an individual is affected. Even the smallest changes in sunlight can cause flare-ups.
What are the Symptoms?
The biggest signs of sundowning are irritability and confusion. However, you may also notice the following symptoms:
- Violent or Paranoid Behavior
Additionally, there is a greater risk of injury as well. The confusion linked to sundowning can lead to dangerous situations for older adults, especially when they wander. If they wander outside during the cold winter months, they may suffer from hypothermia due to being inadequately dressed.
How to Treat Sundowning
Fighting against the effects of changing seasons is a process. You have to try it out and see what works. Just like setting up a routine, you will find that some approaches work better than others. To start, make sure to turn on the lights in the house before the sun starts to set. Try to adjust your daily plans to ensure that your visits and appointments are kept in the sunny daytime hours.
You will want to leave sleep for the later evening hours to reduce the chances of nighttime restlessness. Preparing for sleep also means cutting down on stimulating activities or noises before bedtime. You can also try relaxing essential oils, soothing white noise machines, or even mild sleep aids such as melatonin. When making changes to your routines, do consult a doctor first. There is no one approach for everyone but a doctor can provide the information you need to safely manage the symptoms of sundowning.
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