How Does Winter Affect Dementia?


It’s no secret that our mental and physical health changes with the seasons. In the spring, we often feel a burst of energy as the days begin to last longer. Summertime brings extra time outside, and more time to participate in activities, so we might find it easier to get our daily steps in during this time. As autumn comes, we naturally want to cozy up inside. With all of this natural physical and mental change that occurs with the seasons, it is no wonder that dementia symptoms can also often change with the seasons.


Does Dementia Get Worse in the Winter?

Recent studies have aimed to answer the question does dementia get worse in the winter, and with some success. While studies have been somewhat limited, the research points to the fact that dementia symptoms do indeed become more pronounced in the winter season, and cognitive abilities, in general, tend to decline throughout the winter months for older adults.


What You Might Notice

If you are caring for or checking in on a senior loved one with dementia, you might notice specific symptoms worsening over the winter months. This is normal, though any significant change or change that is affecting daily life should warrant a call to their physician. Remember, quality of life is crucial to their dementia journey.


Sundown Syndrome in Seniors

A common symptom of dementia is sundown syndrome. This term describes behaviors that often occur in the late afternoon and early evening hours, including wandering or walking without a destination, increased anxiety and restlessness, aggression, and repetitive questions. Because the sun is setting earlier in the day in the winter months, you might notice your loved one beginning to exhibit sundowning behaviors earlier than usual. Their behaviors may last longer in the winter as well.


Vascular Dementia and Feeling Cold

If your loved one lives with vascular dementia, they may be more vulnerable to feeling cold due to poor circulation. They may also be unable to dress appropriately for the weather or their comfort, leaving them feeling chillier than others.


Dementia and Body Temperature Regulation

Speaking of body temperature, dementia makes regulating it much more difficult. Cognitive decline can make it challenging for adults to recognize if they are cold, let alone take steps to get warmer. This can mean that adults living with dementia are more likely to be cold without the ability to know to put on a sweater, turn up the heat, or add a blanket to their bed.


Mood Changes

Winter is associated with increased depression for adults of all ages due partly to shorter daylight hours and less time in the sun. For adults living with dementia, depression and anxiety are already often part of the disease process. This can mean that winter will only exacerbate signs and symptoms of depression for them.


Sleep Disturbances

Finally, winter can bring on bouts of insomnia or other sleep disturbances. People with dementia already have trouble regulating their sleep and circadian rhythm, and the extra darkness in the late afternoon or early evening can lead to more confusion.


What To Do Next

Family caregivers should focus on the health and safety of their loved ones living with dementia extra closely in the winter months. If you notice that your loved one is struggling with the change in season, make an appointment with their physician to discuss it. Other tips can include:


Perhaps most importantly, be sure you are getting the rest and support you need to stay healthy in your family caregiver role. You might find it helpful to attend a support group for family caregivers or schedule respite time for your loved one in a memory care community


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