Navigating the Time Change When a Senior Has Dementia

Navigating the Time Change When a Senior Has Dementia

Dear Donna:

My mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease a few years ago. Over the last year or so she has started experiencing sundowner’s syndrome. It has gotten worse recently, and she often tries to exit our house on her own when she is agitated.

When we changed our clocks last spring for daylight saving time, I noticed my mom’s sundowning worsened. I think it was because it stayed light outside for so much longer. It was so difficult to get her to wind down and go to sleep for months after we set our clocks ahead.

As we are heading toward the end of daylight saving time, I’m wondering what to expect now that it will get dark earlier. Is there anything I can do to make this transition go more smoothly?

Any suggestions are greatly appreciated!


Cindy in Saginaw, MI

The Impact of the Time Change on Alzheimer’s

Dear Cindy:

Good observation! We don’t talk about this issue enough. As you’ve already discovered, a routine is essential for adults with memory impairment. Changes in their daily schedule, including time changes, can be disruptive and lead to anxiety, restlessness, and agitation. We’ve witnessed it in the memory care neighborhoods at Heritage Senior Communities. In response, we’ve taken steps to try to minimize the impact of the time change every six months.

One is that Alzheimer’s disease disrupts the body’s circadian rhythm. So, it makes sense that the time change could exacerbate the behaviors associated with sundowner’s syndrome. A few ideas to try to help minimize sundowning symptoms all year long, including during time changes, are:

  • Control the interior lighting: One suggestion is to control the lighting inside your home. If you are trying to prevent your loved one from falling asleep or going to bed too early, close the blinds and turn all of the lights on inside. It might help trick the body into thinking it’s still daytime. This may also help decrease agitation and pacing, which are common among adults with Alzheimer’s during the evenings.
  • Structure the day carefully: When you are caring for a family member with Alzheimer’s, how you plan your day is important. If you notice your mom gets tired and falls asleep in the late afternoon, rethink how you are structuring the day. It might be better to schedule appointments and activity for morning, so you can avoid late-day naps that might make bedtime more challenging. A quick nap earlier in the day might be better.
  • Get regular exercise: Physical fitness activities are good for the body, mind, and soul. For adults with Alzheimer’s, it is also useful for preventing or reducing the agitation and anxiety commonly associated with the disease. It may help your mom feel more relaxed and comfortable throughout the day, reducing the incidences of sundowning. Try taking a 15-minute walk in the morning and doing some gentle stretching in the afternoon. Both are good for older adults and their caregivers!

I hope these tips provide you with some ideas to make the time change go more smoothly!

Kind regards,


Bookmark the Heritage Blog

We know caregivers are always searching for information and resources to help them support a senior loved one. That’s why we encourage you to bookmark this blog and stop back often. We share new articles each week on topics ranging from evaluating a senior living community to creating meaningful days for an adult with dementia.

Everyday Ideas for Staying Physically Fit in Retirement

Everyday Ideas for Staying Physically Fit in Retirement

Retirement is a time when most older adults have more free time than ever before. Some choose to travel extensively, while others might explore new hobbies. No matter how you choose to spend your retirement, it’s important to make fitness a regular part of your life.

Seniors who fall into a sedentary lifestyle put their health in danger. In fact, some researchers say spending too much time sitting is as dangerous as smoking for older adults. As we head into another Midwest winter, seniors should talk with their primary care physician about indoor fitness activities.

Activities to Stay Fit in Retirement

Without a doubt, winter in Michigan and Indiana can limit outdoor activities for older adults. Cold weather, ice, and snow keep many people indoors. But there are a variety of senior-friendly indoor fitness options. Not only will they help you or a senior loved one avoid the hazards of a sedentary life, but they might also aid in preventing falls.

Here are some fitness ideas to discuss with your doctor:

  • Walking: While it might seem boring and not strenuous enough, walking is actually a very good form of physical fitness. In addition to the cardiovascular benefits, it can also decrease stress and improve balance. In warmer months, the only equipment required is a pair of sturdy walking shoes. For inclement weather days, a home treadmill can be ideal.
  • Go4Life: If you prefer a more goal-oriented, structured exercise program, consider Go4Life. This free program, created by the National Institute on Aging at NIH, makes it easier to focus on fitness. It offers a variety of fitness resources for seniors, from workout videos to tools for tracking goals and progress.
  • Chair yoga: One benefit of yoga for seniors is how easy it is to practice from a seated position. Chair yoga builds strength and endurance while protecting balance and mobility. Each is essential for fall prevention. There are many free videos online to help seniors learn at home. Check out Gentle Chair Yoga for Beginners and Seniors and Chair Yoga Stretch for Beginners, Seniors & Everyone.
  • Tai Chi: Tai Chi combines slow, steady movements with breath control. Because it is gentle on the body, it can be a good option for older adults to incorporate exercise into their fitness routine. Many senior centers and fitness clubs offer classes. “Tai Chi for Arthritis” is a good resource to learn more and get started.
  • SilverSneakers: Joining a fitness program designed especially for older adults can be less intimidating than those offered to the general public. One to explore is a program known as SilverSneakers. Insurance companies often include it for free in their member benefits for seniors. Visit the SilverSneakers website to check if your health insurance plan participates.
  • Cycling: Another idea is bike riding. It’s a great fitness activity indoors or out. If you’re nervous about bicycle accidents, investing in the increasingly popular adult tricycle might be an option. When it’s raining or snowing out, a recumbent bike might be useful. You can probably find a good used one for a reasonable price at a local garage sale or Facebook marketplace. These cycling tips for seniors can help an older adult get started.
  • Swimming: If your local fitness center has a warm therapy pool, it can provide a good form of fitness all year round. Swimming improves flexibility, stamina, balance, and sleep quality. In addition to these benefits, it’s also easy on older joints.

Unique Wellness Model at Heritage

At Heritage Senior Communities, we take a unique approach to wellness. It’s a holistic philosophy that nurtures the body, mind, and spirit. See it for yourself when you schedule a visit to a community near you today!

Coping with Family Caregiver Fear and Guilt

Coping with Family Caregiver Fear and Guilt

Dear Donna:

My great-aunt had a bad fall a few months ago that left her with some pretty significant injuries. She’s recently been discharged from a rehabilitation center and is staying with me. I am her only relative and love her dearly. The role of caregiver is brand new to me, and I find myself struggling.

I worry that I’m overlooking things and not caring for her properly. If I leave her in the care of my husband for even short periods of time, like to run a quick errand, I feel guilty.

My aunt will likely be sharing our home permanently, so I know I have to find ways to better cope with caregiving. Do you have any advice for how to do that?


Janet in Grand Haven, MI

Coping Tips for Family Caregivers

Dear Janet:

My first suggestion is to be kind to yourself. Acknowledge your feelings are okay to have. When it comes to caring for a loved one, most of us are too hard on ourselves. Family members have a rollercoaster of emotions even after years of caregiving experience. Fear, guilt, and sadness about the future are common.

As a caregiver, you are witnessing a person who has been a big part of your life struggle. That isn’t easy. Being unable to predict exactly what they’ll need from you can be anxiety-inducing, too. Then there is the guilt. When a family member believes they’ve made a mistake or have taken a little time to themselves, the guilt can be overwhelming.

Here are a few tips for managing the rollercoaster of difficult emotions family caregivers experience every day:

  • Join a caregiver support group.

Caregiver support groups are a great avenue for learning how to manage difficult emotions. They allow you to connect with peers in person or online. Not only will you learn from other group members’ experiences, but you will also discover you aren’t alone in this struggle.

Online caregiver support groups are often a good option when time is an issue or it isn’t safe to leave a family member unattended. Some caregivers find it easier to share their true feelings because of the anonymity of an online group.

In-person groups are good for those who want face-to-face interaction with fellow family caregivers. Check local senior centers, assisted living communities, and churches to find one near you.

  • Connect with information and resources.

Part of the fear family caregivers have stems from not having any formal training. Many take on the role like you did, after a loved one experienced a health crisis. The uncertainty you feel is legitimate and understandable.

It might be helpful to find resources that help you self-educate, such as articles on the Heritage Senior Communities blog. AARP Caregiver Resource Center is another helpful option to explore. You may also want to call your local agency on aging to ask about family caregiver workshops. If they don’t offer them, they might know of a nearby organization that does.

  • Take advantage of respite services.

Respite care is a program designed to give caregivers relief on a short-term basis. It can be a lifesaver for people who don’t have friends or family with whom to share caregiving duties. Most respite services can be utilized for a few days or up to a month, depending upon the senior living community.

Respite guests in a senior living community benefit from receiving the same care and support as long-term residents. They also enjoy healthy meals, housekeeping services, and a variety of daily life enrichment activities.

  • Ask for help.

This last suggestion is important: give yourself permission to ask for and accept help. You can’t do it all. Trying to do so can lead to chronic stress and caregiver burnout. Whether it’s asking a friend to pick up a few groceries for you or investigating a friendly visitor program at your church or synagogue, allowing others to support your family through this time is necessary and okay.

I hope this information brings you some peace of mind and confidence, Janet. Please let me know if you would like more information on respite care at any of the Heritage Senior Communities or call the location nearest you!

Kind regards,


Important Questions to Ask on an Assisted Living Tour

Important Questions to Ask on an Assisted Living Tour

If you are searching for an assisted living community for a senior in the family, an important part of the process is taking a tour. Plan to visit once or twice so you can meet some of the staff and residents and get a firsthand look at community life.

Before you schedule your first tours, create a list of questions to ask. You’ll also need to pack a notebook and pen to document answers and observations. As much as you might think you’ll remember, it’s easy to confuse assisted living communities when you are visiting several.

Creating a List of Questions to Ask on a Visit to Assisted Living

Having a set of questions to ask on your assisted living tour will also help you stay focused on what is important. This list will give you a good foundation on which to add your own questions:

  • How many team members are on duty for each shift? What are their responsibilities?
  • How many residents are assigned to each caregiver? What other duties do caregivers have during their shift?
  • What is the staff turnover rate for caregivers and other direct care workers?
  • What happens when a resident’s care needs change?
  • How often do caregivers check on an assisted living resident?
  • When was the community’s most recent state survey and what were the results?
  • What types of wellness programs (e.g., blood pressure checks) are offered?
  • Does the community create a written care plan detailing how your loved one will be cared for? How often is it updated? Does family have input?
  • What protocols are in place to ensure that each resident receives the appropriate medications at the right time and in the correct dosage?
  • What is the process for filling and refilling prescriptions? Are residents required to use a particular pharmacy?
  • How are over-the-counter medications handled? Can residents purchase and store them independently?
  • Does a nurse or physician review the medication management program on a regular basis?
  • How are fees structured? Are care charges included in the base rent?
  • Beyond care and board, what expenses should a resident expect each month?
  • How often are life enrichment activities offered?
  • Are residents given the opportunity to go on outings to shopping centers, local restaurants, and more?

Questions Specific to Memory Care Programs

Is your loved one in the early stages of dementia or do you want to learn more about memory care neighborhoods just in case? You will need to ask some specific questions, including:

  • Is there special training for staff about dementia and Alzheimer’s disease? How long is the training?
  • How is staff trained to manage sundowning and wandering, both common in adults with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia?
  • Is there a separate, secure area of the community for residents with a memory impairment?
  • If yes, are there dedicated dining and life enrichment programs?
  • Are rooms in the memory care area private or shared?
  • Does the community offer a secure outdoor area for residents who have dementia?

You’ll no doubt have questions specific to your senior loved one. However, the questions outlined above will give you a solid foundation on how to objectively assess an assisted living community.

Visit a Heritage Senior Community to Learn More

With memory care, independent living, and assisted living communities throughout Michigan and one in Indiana, families are sure to find a Heritage location to meet their needs. Call us today with any questions or to schedule your family’s private tour!