Seasonal Changes and Alzheimer’s Disease

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Seasonal Changes and Alzheimer’s Disease

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With the change in weather and the holiday season upon us, schedules get busier and stress levels increase.  We all seem to need more time in the day, but individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia are often the most affected.

If you notice marked changes in a loved one’s behavior this time of year, it may be more than just stress from the holidays.

The Alzheimer’s Association published a list of early-, mid-, and late-stage Alzheimer’s symptoms so that you can be aware of the behaviors that may be a red flag.  Symptoms range from shot-term memory loss and anger, to hallucinations and wandering, to impaired communication and mobility.  You can read more about the symptoms at each stage here.

If a loved one is suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia, this time of year can be particularly difficult.  Less daylight, cold weather, and holiday parties and visitors can increase confusion and irritation in an Alzheimer’s patient.

The onset of winter and daylight savings time can have a big impact on people with the disease.  Those with early-to-mid stage Alzheimer’s may experience sundowning, which is characterized as increased confusion and agitation later in the day.  With shorter days, the decreased sunlight affects the body’s circadian rhythm and individuals living with Alzheimer’s have a harder time adjusting to the change.

Disruptions in routine can also increase confusion among the Alzheimer’s population.  Not only does the time change affect routines and daily schedules, but also visiting family members and holiday gatherings can be enough to throw the individual’s normal habits off balance.

One common symptom of Alzheimer’s is wandering, and wandering during the winter months can be even more dangerous than during the warmer months.  This time of year, ice and snow become an issue.  While fall risks are possible for any individual or senior, those with Alzheimer’s disease may not have the cognitive ability to realize there is snow or ice on the ground.  Even if they can recognize the ground conditions, these individuals may not know how to properly walk in snow or ice or to protect themselves if they do slip and fall.

In addition to potentially hazardous ground conditions, individuals with Alzheimer’s disease may wander without the proper clothing for the winter cold.  This can be especially dangerous if an individual gets lost without enough layers for warmth. Hypothermia can be a real concern.

Even inside the home, individuals with Alzheimer’s may be at risk.  Alzheimer’s patients may not be able to recognize changes in temperature.  Using electric blankets can pose a danger of burning the individual and space heaters run the risk of causing a fire or becoming a tripping hazard.

While many of us think of the holidays as a time to celebrate and spread holiday cheer, keep in mind that the excitement may actually harm an individual with Alzheimer’s.  Be aware of the potential risks this time of year, and take some extra time to make sure your loved one has the proper tools and care to stay safe this holiday season.