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
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!
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