5 tips on how to support someone with Dementia in winter
Winter can be a tricky season if you are living with dementia – the days are shorter, it’s harder to exercise outside, and the weather requires you to dress with more care. Here’s 5 tips on how loved ones can support someone with dementia when the cold months hit.
1. Have a peaceful evening routine
Short winter days can exacerbate sundowning, which is when people with dementia become more confused, restless, insecure or upset in the late afternoon or early evening. Longer periods of darkness can also cause disorientation as it becomes hard to see, while dim lights and shadows cause people to imagine things that aren’t there. The early evenings can also be disruptive for sleep (for example, your loved one may think it’s time to go to bed at 5:30pm because it’s already dark, but be unable to sleep).
What you can do: try to stick to a familiar routine, as this provides comfort and security when someone is coping with memory loss. Calm and low key activities can be helpful, such as doing a puzzle, listening to relaxing music, helping to cook the evening meal or doing an art activity. If possible, try to keep the space they live in peaceful during the late afternoon and early evening, with not too much competing noise and stimulation.
2. Make sure they are dressed for the cold weather
People living with dementia may not be able to recognise or communicate to someone when they are feeling cold, which can lead to frustration and anxiety. They may also be unable to dress appropriately for the weather, placing them at risk of getting sick – or in extremely cold temperatures, experiencing hypothermia.
What you can do: check your loved one is wearing enough warm clothes for winter. Layers of clothes made of fabric like cotton, wool or fleecy fibres can be helpful, as they can remove or add items when they feel hot or cold. Keep their home warm by making sure it’s draught-proof, well insulated and well heated, with plenty of blankets on hand. Before you pull out the heaters for the winter, remember to check for damage and stay safe when using things like water bottles and electric blankets.
3. Don’t forget about exercise
It’s common to exercise less in winter, as there’s less daylight, the weather isn’t as pleasant and we’re all more prone to sitting inside and watching TV. It’s important to keep moving though as exercise has so many great health benefits for people with dementia, from increasing blood flow to the brain and improving wellbeing.
What you can do: grab your jacket and take advantage of sunny mornings with morning walks – perhaps try walking the dog, exploring your local park or walking to your local coffee shop. Just be careful of slippery surfaces if it’s been raining, as people with dementia may find it harder to see wet surfaces. Indoor exercises like yoga, dancing, stretching exercises or strength exercises can be good options too. Indoor exercise classes can also be a great way get out of the house, move your body and make friends at the same time.
4. Keep enjoying the sunshine
Being exposed to less sunlight and vitamin D can lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of depression that’s related to a change in seasons. Less sunlight can also cause someone with dementia to experience confusion, more anxiety and irritation (sundowning). It can also impact their sleep patterns, as the change in sunlight affects the body’s circadian rhythms.
What you can do: during the day, take advantage of the sunlight as much as possible. Open the curtains to let the light in, put furniture like chairs near the windows, enjoy afternoon tea in the backyard or on the veranda, enjoy a morning walk even if it’s just around the block. As the light starts to fade, make sure the lights inside the house are on, so your loved one can easily find their way.
5. Eat healthy and nourishing food
Eating regular meals and enjoying nutritious food is always important, but even more so in the winter months when older people are more susceptible to colds, flu, pneumonia and viruses. This can be difficult to do, though, when someone has lost their appetite or finds mealtimes difficult.
What you can do: eat a variety of healthy foods that are key to a well-balanced diets, such as lean protein, fruits and vegetables and healthy grains. If your loved one has difficulty swallowing, talk to a dietitian about food options that they can easily eat. Foods that can boost your immunity are seafood and lean meat which are full of zinc and iron, fresh vegetables full of vitamin C, and dairy products like milk and yoghurt which are rich in vitamin D. Eating together can also be a great way to socialise with others and boost wellbeing.