Winter is a challenge for dementia carers

Posted on: 05 January 2015 by Mary Jordan

50connect's regular dementia columnist Mary Jordan looks at the challenges of caring for someone during the winter months.

caring for someone with dementia

The long dark evenings and short cold days of winter can be a very trying time when you are caring for someone with dementia. Many of us feel a little ‘down’ in the depths of Winter and people with dementia often seem to get depressed  and  to exhibit more challenging behaviour at this season.

There are things that can help to make a difference. One is to try to get out into the fresh air for some exercise every day when possible. The exercise is beneficial and may help to prevent restlessness later in the day.* It is important to try to take your outdoor exercise at the brightest time of the day – usually late morning or early afternoon.

Staying active

This brings me to a second suggestion which can help particularly at this time of the year. Research has shown1 and many carers have found that replacing ordinary lighting with ‘full spectrum daylight’ bulbs in the room in which most time is spent during the day can lift mood and help to ‘reset’ the biological body clock so that people with dementia sleep better, are less depressed and more alert during the day and night waking is reduced. The more forward thinking care homes use full spectrum daylight lighting in communal lounges. Do not use this lighting in bedrooms because you want to make the bedroom a soothing place to encourage sleep and a sense of ‘winding down’. It is not easy to find full spectrum daylight bulbs on the high street and you may have to order them on-line but there are eco-friendly versions if this is a concern to you. Some craft material shops sell full spectrum daylight bulbs or lamps with that can be angled to provide light in a particular area but is it better to just replace the bulbs in your ordinary light fittings with full spectrum daylight bulbs. The lighting appears white, not yellow and has been described as like ‘putting an extra window in the room’.

Mental stimulation

It is a good idea to keep the person with dementia busy with small tasks or interests during the early evening. Preferably do not have the evening meal too early as this makes the dark evening seem to stretch out ahead – conversely a very late meal may mean that indigestion disturbs the night sleep. Remember to close curtains and switch on lights promptly at dusk to prevent the person with dementia being upset by shadows or reflections in darkened windows. If you are going out in the evening (after dark) remember that people with dementia are likely to have problems with seeing well in the dark* so carry a good torch and stay reassuringly close to them.

*Future articles will cover these subjects.

1. Effect of Bright Light and Melatonin on Cognitive and Noncognitive Function in Elderly Residents of Group Care Facilities

A Randomized Controlled Trial Rixt F. Riemersma-van der Lek, MD Dick F. Swaab, MD, PhD Jos Twisk, PhD Elly M. Hol, PhD

Witte J. G. Hoogendijk, MD, PhD Eus J. W. Van Someren, PhD

About the author

Mary works for a national dementia charity and is an Associate Director of ELM (End of Life Management Ltd). She has had considerable experience of caring for elderly relatives and friends and worked in the NHS for 9 years. Earlier publications include books on Caring and on GP Practice Management, in addition to articles in nursing and social care journals and magazines. Mary has published her new book this month by Hammersmith Books called ‘The Essential Carer’s Guide to Dementia’ and each month she will offer practical advice on how to deal with dementia.

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