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AGEWISE: Difficulty adjusting to daylight saving time

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Q: My wife was recently diagnosed with dementia, and I am worried that daylight saving time has having an adverse effect on her. What are some ways that I can help her cope with the time change?

—SJ

Answer: The transition to and from daylight saving time can be difficult for people living with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.

If your wife is showing increased signs of confusion at sunset, has disruption in sleeping patterns, is going to bed sooner, is hungry earlier than usual, appears to be overwhelmed or exhausted, or seems more agitated and confused overall, daylight saving time may be a factor. Try to remain patient. Remember that disrupting your wife’s schedule, even by only an hour, can be extremely unnerving for her.

Human beings have natural circadian rhythms that respond to sunlight. Losing even one hour of it can cause many people to undergo physiological and emotional changes, which can be dramatically heightened in individuals living with dementia. For many people who have dementia, keeping to a routine is important. The fact that the days are shorter can be upsetting and lead to confusion, irritability and tendencies toward wandering.

There are several measures one can take to help loved ones adjust to the time change. You might start by exposing them to as much daylight as possible, and if possible, occupy them with calming, yet enjoyable, activities, such as listening to their favorite music while the sun is setting. If you’re able, try keeping the home well-lit after dark.

Another helpful suggestion is to consider the person’s usual routine before the time change, and then make incremental adjustments that after the time change, over time, equal one hour. This works by slowly increasing the time adjustment each day (for example, if dinner is normally served at 5 p.m., change mealtime to 4 p.m. on the first day, 4:15 on the second day, and so on. Using the same method to adjust sleep and bathroom routines is helpful as well.

Keep in mind that it typically takes the average adult several days for the body and mind to adjust to the changes associated with daylight saving time. Being mindful of your loved one’s challenges with the time change and remembering to take care of yourself as well will help everyone adapt to the transition more smoothly.

Q: I heard that this month is Family Caregiver Awareness Month. I would like to support my friend who is caring for his mother living with dementia, but I’m not sure where to start. Can you offer some suggestions?

—CK

Answer: Supporting a caregiver may take on many forms. One way to participate in Family Caregivers Awareness Month is to help caregivers at large by encouraging people in your social, professional and spiritual circles to help prepare meals or help with some everyday responsibilities such as going to the post office or grocery store for caregivers that they know.

For your friend, one of the most appreciated acts may be volunteering your time to sit with their loved one to let them take a break, even if it’s only for a couple hours each month.

One can also honor caregivers and their families by encouraging them to speak up and share their stories. Presenting the challenges of caregiving through personal experiences to community, faith-based, or civic organizations in a person’s network could go a long way toward raising awareness. Personal stories can help others in a similar situation find help and connect to resources.

Caregivers tackle the daily responsibilities of caring for a loved one, sometimes without help or respite. By increasing awareness of caregiver concerns and challenges, communities can help people in this role prevent some of the negative consequences of burnout such as stress-induced health concerns. During the month of November, we are encouraged to pay special attention to caregivers and inform others about the challenges they face.

Anyone who is interested in learning more ways to support caregivers and their loved ones affected by Alzheimer’s or other dementia-related diseases can register to attend “10 Ways to Help a Family.” This will be a virtual presentation and panel presented by The Alzheimer’s Association on Nov. 18 from 10-11:15 a.m. For more information, or to sign up, visit tinyurl.com/HelpAFam or call 800.272.3900.

For information about caregiver support groups and opportunities for respite in our area, visit Senior Services’ online resource directory at seniorservicesinc.org.

AgeWise is a weekly column compiled by staff of Senior Services Inc., a nonprofit organization in Winston-Salem. If you have a question, email agewise@seniorservicesinc.org or mail to Senior Services, 2895 Shorefair Drive, Winston-Salem, NC 27105.

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