It’s almost that time of year again—time to change the clocks!
Did you think the same thing I did: “Thank goodness I get an extra hour of sleep”? The autumn time change feels easier on the system since we gain extra sleep…but then the darker evenings are a tougher adjustment. The darkness creeping in earlier day by day, and then leaping earlier by an hour can be a tough adjustment.
If adjusting to the time change can take a toll on those of us who can cognitively process it, how much harder is it for someone with dementia?
Someone with advanced dementia may not be able to tell time anymore. Some days, it may seem as if they don’t have much routine if they are waking at odd hours and sleeping during the day. But even if their routine has shifted from what it was years ago, they still have an internal sense of the passing of time. Suddenly adding an hour throws off that internal sense, and it can feel disorienting and confusing.
The toughest part of the autumn time change is the earlier time for sunset. Dusk can be a challenging time of day for those with dementia, and dusk happening earlier in the day can exacerbate those challenges. For those who experience elements of “sundowning”—where dementia symptoms worsen and agitation increases at sunset—the autumn time change can be a tough transition.
What can you do to ease the transition?
To ease the transition of the time change, turn on all the lights in the late afternoon. Instead of waiting until it is dark and you need the lights to see, turn on all the lights before you truly need them on. Keep the environment well-lit, bright and welcoming. For the person with dementia, it is helpful to be in a well-lit environment that is not confusing with the long shadows that accompany dusk. In many cases, it is also helpful to close all the curtains before sunset, before the streetlights turn on.
In preparation for the autumn time change, you can start turning the lights on earlier in the days and even weeks leading up to the time change. If you start the routine of turning all the lights on by 4 pm, then that routine can remain constant, even when the time changes and dusk are imminent at 4 pm.
When caring for someone with moderate or advanced dementia, just knowing what to expect can make a difference. Recognize that the time change is just like dealing with jet-lag and it will be an adjustment for your loved one. Expect that they may exhibit some unusual behaviour or feel agitated and anxious the week following the time change.
Prepare as much as possible by gradually backing up the time when you turn on all the lights and close the curtains. Once the time change occurs, ensure that you do keep the environment brightly-lit before dusk even arrives.
And if you can, enjoy that extra hour of sleep!