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How Daylight Saving Time Affects People With Dementia and Their Caregivers

March 12, 2021

Does Daylight Saving Time, which starts March 14, affect people with dementia? The short answer is yes!

But why? Unless people living with dementia are in the very early or late stages, you can bet they will have increased confusion and agitation when we have a time change. They will know by their internal clock that something isn’t quite right, even if they can’t express it.

We know that a consistent routine is an important part of managing dementia. By shifting ahead an hour, this routine is disrupted and often leads to confusion. Daylight Saving Time affects our natural circadian rhythms (body clock). This also affects the chemicals the brain releases throughout the day and can cause changes in behavior, mood and functioning.

What can we do? With more sunlight and the warm weather of spring comes the potential for increased activity. Take advantage and encourage your loved one to get outside, soak up some sun and engage in physical activity. Natural sunlight is the best way to help regulate circadian rhythms. Fresh air has many great health benefits. Pairing sunlight with some exercise will help you and your loved one sleep better.

Routine is key. Start changing your routine slowly to reflect what will happen. If you typically have dinner at 5:30 p.m., but now it is only 4:30 p.m., bump it out in 15-minute increments until you eventually get to 5:30 p.m. again — this can take up to 10 days. The inner clock of people with dementia may tell them they are hungry at 4:30 p.m. even though the clock says 5:30 pm.

Try not to do anything out of the ordinary right after the time change. Keeping routine familiar will provide stability for people with dementia, so they don’t have to deal with schedule disruption as well as time disruption.

The Hartford HealthCare Center for Healthy Aging, a not-for-profit member of Hartford HealthCare Senior Services, is a resource and assessment center designed to enhance access to services and information related to attaining optimal quality of life for seniors and their caregivers.