Dr. Jaideep Bansal, Director and Head, Neurology, Fortis Hospital, Shalimar Bagh
Dementia is deterioration in memory, thinking, behavior, and the ability to perform everyday activities. Although dementia mainly affects older people, it is not a normal part of aging.
Alzheimer’s is one of the most common forms of dementia and may contribute to 60–70% of cases. One can say they are beginning to have an issue when there is a gradual deterioration in the function of brain cells because of the deposition of abnormal protein in and around the brain cells in specific areas of the brain in patients with dementia.
Dementia has a physical, psychological, social, and economic impact, not only on the people suffering from it but also on their caregivers, families, and society at large. Research has shown that the winter season may affect the thinking and memory of older patients.
Winter and early spring are more challenging for people with dementia. Medical experts have further found several reasons why winter adversely affects people with dementia. Longer duration of daylight and warmer temperatures in summer contribute to lifestyle changes that help to improve cognitive functions. During winters, people tend to lie down under the blankets and there are reduced physical activities. Physical activities, physical exercises, or yoga contribute to our mental well-being.
Enough vitamin D from the sunlight, increased physical activities, and socializing are more prevalent during summers and all the activities have significant positive outcomes for people who suffer from dementia. We see less sunlight in winter, which may affect our sleep hormones which result in us feeling sleepy throughout the day. This feeling of sleepiness especially when it is not actual time to sleep can result in a lack of energy and motivation.
A sudden drop in vitamin D production affects serotonin modulation that triggers depressive symptoms. Darkness can cause disorientation and immense confusion. As winter brings longer nights and the darkness also extends, dementia patients struggle with their eyesight too.
In low light, shadows add to the complications. In the darkness, dementia patients may imagine things that aren’t there. This accelerates confusion and irritation among them. There’s a term called sundowning which means a collection of symptoms that include anger, depression, irritation, aggression which usually triggers within the patients as the sunsets. A shorter period of daylight during winter can also aggravate sundowning issues.
Dementia patients need extra care during winters. People around dementia patients need to keep in mind that keeping the patient warm in all possible ways is the key to deal cognitive problems. A major change in their daily routine can further create confusion.
To help a dementia patient, one should encourage that person to stay physically active because physical movements helps in boosting circulation and it also helps to keep someone with dementia warm. We should ensure that a dementia patient can make most of the natural daylight as it helps to reduce the risk of depression.