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A senior couple reads the newspaper together.
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At The Garden Plaza Of Florissant

How Seasons Affect People with Dementia

A tree showing the changing seasons.

How Seasons Affect People with Dementia

August 24th, 2021

Many of us look forward to when the seasons change because it signifies new beginnings and gives us some variety in the weather. However, for older adults with dementia, the seasons changing can have an impact on their condition and how their brains function. Join us as we explain how the seasons affect people with dementia and what can be done to help them reach a higher quality of life. 

How Does Sundowning Syndrome Work? 

When the seasons change from fall to winter, we experience fewer hours of sunlight throughout each day. Naturally, that means there are more hours of darkness, which causes confusion in dementia patients. Why does this happen? When the sun starts to set, it throws off the circadian rhythm of dementia patients. Think of their internal circadian rhythm as a built-in routine that helps them stay more grounded in the present moment. When that routine is thrown off, people with dementia can experience the following symptoms as the sun starts to set: 

  • Pacing 
  • Hallucinations 
  • Wandering 
  • Confusion 
  • Irritability 
  • Paranoia 

It’s important to note that sundowning is not a disease; think of it more as a collection of dementia symptoms that are triggered by changes in sunlight. Even small changes in sunlight can be enough to cause sundowning. That’s part of the reason why the changing of the seasons has such a big impact on people with dementia. 

In fall and winter, there’s also an added risk of injury for people with dementia. The fading light causes people with dementia to potentially wander outside where the exposure to cold weather can cause a variety of health issues, including hypothermia. 

What Factors Aggravate Sundowning Syndrome?

While we can’t do anything about the changing of the seasons each year, there are behaviors we help people with dementia avoid so their sundowning symptoms are less severe. Some of the aggravating factors of sundowning syndrome include: 

  • Not getting enough sleep 
  • Having caffeine or alcohol close to bedtime 
  • Dehydration or hunger 
  • Excess stress and anxiety 
  • Boredom 

Since many of these aggravating factors deal with self-care and lifestyle choices, the structured environment of a memory care community like Garden Plaza of Florissant can help minimize sundowning symptoms. 

Ways to Help Manage Sundowning Syndrome 

Now that we have a better understanding of what sundowning syndrome is, let’s look at effective ways caregivers of people with dementia can use to manage it. 

1. Build a Regular Routine 

People with dementia are more likely to have adverse reactions to people, places and things they aren’t familiar with. That’s why it’s important for people with dementia to have a regular schedule or routine. By implementing daily rituals like meals and activities in the same place, you’ll cut down on the level of confusion and stress someone with dementia feels. 

2. Encourage Activity During the Day 

When you’re caring for someone with dementia, do your best to help them be active throughout the day. For example, going for a walk, sitting down to do a puzzle, or gardening are great ways to keep people with dementia physically and mentally engaged. Doing activities during the day will help them sleep better at night, which reduces seasonal sundowning symptoms. 

3. Minimize Their Stress Levels 

It’s important to try to keep people with dementia calm in the evening hours. Once night falls, it helps to have someone with dementia engage in simple, familiar activities. You don’t want them to feel overwhelmed by an activity that requires a lot of concentration. When people with dementia are faced with a task too challenging, they can become frustrated and confused. To help keep their stress level down, try to play calming music to create a more peaceful environment. 

Discover Expert Memory Care in Florissant, MO 

At Garden Plaza of Florissant, we can offer your loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia the personalized care they need to reach a higher level of wellness. From home-cooked meals to secure apartments designed to make residents feel safe, our memory care community has a wide variety of amenities to help your loved one focus on their physical, mental and spiritual health. 

Thanks to our designated memory care neighborhood, our expert staff can focus on the well-being of individual residents. If you’re interested in learning more about how our community can help your loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia thrive, contact us today.