Winter has a tendency to make the symptoms of dementia worse than they
If you have loved ones affected by Alzheimer’s, you may have noted their
increased agitation, distress and general detachment during the winter. A long-
standing theory, research has concluded that the winter weather has a direct
impact on the symptoms of dementia.
Specifically, experts have pinpointed four reasons why shorter days and
unpleasant weather can adversely affect individuals with dementia:
Heightened risk of depression
When the human brain is starved of natural light, the risk of developing
depression intensifies. Depression associated with the changing seasons is
known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which can have a particularly
heavy impact on dementia sufferers.
Disrupted sleep patterns
During the winter, the early onset of darkness and the later rising of the sun can
wreak havoc with our internal body clocks. Longer nights potentially confuse
the brain as to when it should and should not be asleep. This can lead to
disrupted sleep patterns and lower quality of sleep, which can cause significant
problems for patients with dementia.
The confusion and disorientation associated with dementia are worsened by
visual problems. Darkness can lead to disorientation and frustration –
particularly in those already experiencing visuospatial symptoms. Darker days
and longer nights often bring visual problems for dementia patients, which only
stand to exacerbate their symptoms further.
When the body is exposed to cold temperatures, it is forced to produce
additional heat and energy for its protection. This can leave a person feeling
tired and drained, while at the same time heightening their risk of contracting
winter illnesses. Once again, an even greater threat and issue for those who
suffer from dementia.
Addressing the Issues
Unfortunately, there isn’t a thing any of us can do to change the seasons.
Instead, it’s a case of doing whatever we can to help those affected by dementia
cope with the winter weather.
Maximise exposure to natural light
Where possible, ensure that the affected individual enjoys at least a short period
of direct exposure to natural light each day. Even if it’s simply a quick walk
outdoors, exposure to natural light can reduce stress and enhance a person’s
Vitamin D supplements
Seasonal Affective Disorder may be exacerbated by the human body’s
starvation of vitamin D during the winter months. When the ‘sunshine vitamin’
isn’t available from the sun itself, supplementation could prove helpful.
Create a routine
The confusion and disorientation associated with shorter days can be effectively
addressed by creating a routine. When a dementia patient understands what’s
happening and when it should be happening, they’re far less likely to succumb
to panic, confusion or depression.
Last but not least, providing plenty of entertainment can be a great way of
helping dementia patients through the winter. Boredom is the worst enemy of
anyone at risk of depression, anxiety or agitation. Simply providing personable
company for dementia patients can be one of the best ways of staving off