A change in season that brings dark skies, rainy days, and gloomy weather can dampen the mood of even the healthiest person. For seniors who have dementia, the winter months can be even more difficult. This is especially true for seniors who also have seasonal affective disorder. Many people suffer from seasonal affective disorder, but seniors who have dementia are more prone to this health condition due to the symptoms and nature of dementia.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?
This disorder is a form of depression that coincides with the seasonal change to the fall and winter months. Symptoms include depression, lethargy, fatigue, anxiety, loneliness, difficulty concentrating, moodiness, and insomnia. Sometimes, people also experience overeating, weight gain, and oversleeping. The causes are unknown, but some of the factors influencing seasonal affective disorder include a change in circadian rhythm as the days grow shorter, a decrease in melatonin levels, a decrease in serotonin levels, and pre-existing health conditions such as dementia.
There can be complications that result from seasonal affective disorder that greatly impact a person’s quality of life. People with the health condition may experience difficulties at work or school, have trouble socializing, engage in substance abuse, have suicidal thoughts, or try to attempt suicide. In-home caregivers are of great assistance to seniors with seasonal affective disorder because they can act as a second set of eyes and monitor any concerning changes in behaviors.
What is Dementia?
Dementia is a broad categorization for a particular set of brain illnesses, such as Alzheimer’s Disease, that involve memory loss and cognitive decline. Dementia is a progressive illness of the brain that impairs a person's ability to remember things, think logically, and carry out everyday tasks. It typically affects seniors, although younger people occasionally get it as well.
Common symptoms of dementia include memory problems, confusion, reduced concentration, changes in personality or behavior, apathy, depression, anxiety, and mood swings. There are three main stages of dementia and it is important to incorporate the right type of dementia care as each stage progresses. In-home caregivers provide high quality, professional assistance to seniors who have dementia because caregivers often receive specific training for dementia care and memory care.
Dementia Care and Seasonal Affective Disorder
Most seniors who have dementia will be affected by the fall and winter months, and many will be battling seasonal affective disorder alongside their usual dementia symptoms. During this time, it is important for in-home caregivers and family caregivers to include treatment and activities in their dementia care plans that address both of these health conditions simultaneously.
Increasing exposure to natural light or specially designed artificial light can help ease the symptoms of depression. It works best when seniors are exposed to the lighting within the first hour of waking, and it can be used at intervals throughout the day. Light therapy helps because it causes a change in brain chemicals that are linked to mood. People tend to notice a decrease in symptoms after a few days.
Regular, low-intensity exercise can help boost the feel-good chemicals in the brain, such as oxytocin. This improves mood as well as circulation, both of which are good for brain health. In-home caregivers can customize exercise programs or regimes for each person in their care. To get the most out of incorporating exercise into a dementia care plan, in-home caregivers can choose exercises that their clients find enjoyable. Ideas include nature walks, yoga, and chair exercises.
Many studies show a link between reduced dementia symptoms and listening to music. In-home caregivers can use musical therapy as part of their dementia care plans. Since musical therapy decreases symptoms of depression, as well, it helps with both dementia and seasonal affective disorder. Work with seniors to understand which type of music they respond to best, and when possible provide exposure to soothing live music.
Sometimes, a listening ear makes all the difference. In-home caregivers who have dementia care training can apply this same expertise to seniors who have seasonal affective disorder. Knowing how to respond to alterations in mood in a kind and compassionate way is important for reducing symptoms of depression. In-home caregivers can help seniors address negative thoughts and behaviors and can provide solutions for managing stress.
The Benefits of High Quality Dementia Care Services
Receiving dementia care from a reputable in-home care agency can greatly improve a senior’s quality of life. For example, all of the in-home caregivers at Alegre Home Care go through specialized Alzheimer’s and dementia care training. This gives our in-home caregivers a skill set and expertise that goes beyond general caregiving services.
If you have questions about our in-home care services, please reach out to Alegre Home Care at one of our Northern California locations.