The season change from Summer stirs up emotions; anticipation of colder days, awe and gratitude for the colorful canvas, excitement for crisp days spent raking and a bit of sadness saying goodbye to beach and gardens. Elderly people with Dementia and those that care for them also experience changes with seasons. Identify how these transitions affect you and your loved one with Dementia and plan for meaningful experiences.
Potential culprits to increased irritability and behavior changes with the seasons may include increased pain, shorter days, changes in sleep patterns, minimal time spent outdoors and holiday triggers.
A US study of 1000 community-dwelling seniors found 74% reported pain in past 30 days; 52% had daily pain and 26% reported “agonizing pain” (Sawyer, Bodner, Ritchie & Allman 2006). Up to 8 in 10 people will have back pain in their lifetime. A drop in temperature exacerbates pain symptoms as tendons and joints contract. Pain in the elderly is highly under-reported and untreated. Compound that with a person who is unable to tell you they are in pain and the result is often negative behaviors. Be sure to address this with your doctor.
With Fall comes shorter days and residents become confused to time. They may sundown or fall asleep earlier which may negatively affect their sleep pattern. They may wake at night because they are resting earlier. A walk in the sunshine and fresh air provides Vitamin D and increases endorphins. With increased endorphins we feel less pain and stress.
Maximize the benefits of the change of season. Strategically plan time to bundle up and get outside. Bring a pile of leaves indoors to touch, see and smell! Create a simple craft using foliage and twigs. Reminisce about apple picking while making apple sauce in the crock pot! Decorate a pumpkin! Keeping active and engaged will expend energy, promote good sleep patterns and replace potential holiday triggers with fun, in-the-moment experience.