The Caring Corner - Blog

Shorter Days Impact Seniors in Many Ways

By Emma Dickison

Since we’ve just had our clocks “fall back” to standard time across most of the country, that means darkness is already settling in even as we drive home from work. Less light, more cold (often accompanied by precipitation of some sort and/or wind) can have a debilitating effect on all of us. Our body clocks are disrupted and many of us just have a “blah” feeling until we’re able to get back into rhythm.

For seniors, especially those suffering from some form of dementia such as Alzheimer’s, the shorter days can exacerbate a condition known as sundowning. Many Home Helpers Caregivers have experienced situations where their elderly clients suffer increased memory loss, confusion and agitation that leads to anger during this time of the year.

While there’s no way to “prescribe” a cure for sundowning, there are some techniques available to help manage its effects. It’s important to pay attention to see which methods work best for the person in your life, since everyone reacts differently.

Here are some things to try:

  • Stick to a routine – Maintaining a daily schedule can provide a harbor where the person feels safe and knows what to expect each day. Meals should be served at the same time, along with other routines such as physical activities, playing a game or watching a favorite show. There’s a sense of comfort just by keeping to a schedule.
  • Let the sun shine – Even if it’s not the real sun, keeping rooms lit or even the use of light boxes can help maintain a feeling of being active and alert.
  • Watch what they eat – Take notice if certain foods cause a reaction or change in behavior. Limit sweets and caffeine late in the day to help ensure restful sleep.
  • Research supplements – Consult with a doctor to see if supplements such as vitamins, melatonin or herbs such as ginkgo biloba might alleviate symptoms.

Remember, each person and their situation is unique, so it’s important to monitor the behavior of your elderly loved one to see what works best for them. Also, while sundowning is more prevalent in dementia patients, it’s not the only cause and can occur with many seniors.

You can always contact your local Home Helpers office if you notice a change and need some help checking on the senior in your life. They also offer Direct Link digital devices, which are monitored 24/7 for added peace of mind. But the best treatment of all is regular contact with family so they know that they’re loved and cared about.