Coping with Short Winter Days
Many people are prone to depression during the winter months when the days are short. The same is true for people living with dementia. Since this population cannot put in place any plans to mitigate the effects of low light, it is up to the caregivers to do so for them.
Here is a blueprint for combatting withdrawal and depression for those with dementia:
- Make the most of the bright mid-day sun. The sun is brightest in a window between 11 am and 1 pm. Plan your day so that you are able to take your loved one outside in this time frame. The combination of fresh air, and bright sun is energizing, and the direct sunshine will boost levels of Vitamin D.
- Go to a bright indoor space on cloudy or cold days. You will have to do some scouting to locate suitable nearby destinations on cold and cloudy days. One possibility is a local shopping mall, which usually offer very brightly lit indoor areas. The best time to go to such a place is when it is quiet, so avoid malls on the weekend or other days that are heavy shopping days.
- Make sure the lighting inside the home is bright and plentiful. As the sun sinks low, increase the lighting inside to minimize the sense of darkness coming on. Installing dimmers can make it easier to adjust the lighting as needed to provide a bright environment in a variety of light conditions.
- Plan a favorite activity during the time that day is moving into night. The time around sunset can cause agitation and mood changes in those with dementia. This is a phenomenon, known as sundowning, is distinct from the depression due to low levels of light, but the combination can intensify a person’s response to both. By having an activity planned during this transition period, you focus attention on something other than the dwindling light and possibly lessen its negative impact.
- Discuss taking melatonin with your physician. There is some evidence that melatonin may decrease depression triggered by low light levels. If your loved one is reacting badly to the long dark days of winter, ask your physician about the possibility of trying this supplement.
Hopefully some of these suggestions will reduce the tendency to withdrawal and depression during the winter months. And it is good to keep in mind that spring will officially be here in less than two months.