Laura Banner

Laura Banner

Family Nurse Practitioner, Dementia Trainer & Advocate,
Keynote Speaker (Available for speaking engagements on Dementia)

Changing seasons with dementia

Can you feel it in the air that cool crispness just the sense that the seasons starting to change, fall is knocking on the door? I know I can feel it; it’s been around for almost about a week now. We also know is that with the changing seasons, disorientation can set in. And this is something that, as a caregiver, you need to be keenly aware of, because there may be some changes in your loved one that you just can’t explain, you know it’s not an infection. You know that you haven’t overdone it. But why is your loved one acting a little bit more confused?

Well, let’s take a step back and think about what this change of season really brings on. It brings on decorations, what we know to be our normal for at home, now all of a sudden, we place these cute little knickknacks and strategic places to represent the season, and that’s fine, and I’m not telling you not to do it. But when someone has some baseline confusion or dementia, just those small little decorations that we enjoy, they can find disorienting. What about the time change? Maybe you live in a place where with fall, we go ahead, and we turn the clocks back. So now it’s going to get darker a bit earlier. And what can that bring on? That can trigger some hallucinations and some sundowning.

Fall also brings, at least to me, a sense of gatherings, times when we meet friends and family in different locations, or we invite them into our home. The gatherings are no longer outside like they are in the summer months, but they’re inside. So you can have the same number of people in a gathering, but it can feel a bit more overwhelming. It can be more of an overstimulating event for your loved one. And we know that overstimulation can cause increased confusion. Now, let me digress for a moment and talk about something called cognitive reserve. Cognitive reserve is what we all rely on to help get us through the real trying times. It’s what kicks in when we are pushed to the limit. When we’re either emotionally stressed or physically stressed. It’s what we can tap into that reserve tank, if you will, to help get us through a situation. It’s important to know that when someone is suffering from memory impairment or a type of dementia, their cognitive reserve is certainly limited. If not completely void. And so they don’t have that extra tank to pull from to help them get through stressful times. So I think it’s a fair statement to say that no matter how much we all enjoy the holidays, they are a bit stressful, but it’s that cognitive reserve that we all rely on to get us through those times. But what happens when you don’t have it? All these things that are positive, but yet stressful can quickly be increasingly disorienting to your loved one.

It’s important to know that with a decrease in cognitive reserve. You have a decrease in the ability to be flexible. And we certainly all need flexibility during times of the holidays. And also, as the decrease in cognitive reserve is present. The increase in confusion presents. And again, it might be due to no other cause than the fact that the seasons are changing, and our routines change a bit, and the decorations are a bit disorienting. But again, as I’ve spoken in the past and said, when your loved one has a precipitous decline. First, assume there’s infection. But as I’ve also mentioned, it’s so important that we keep a routine, a predictable schedule, where you can see how a change in season absolutely disrupts that routine that we’ve talked about promoting. So again, remember what we may find easy to adjust to, assuming we have no cognitive impairment, our loved one may find very unsettling. So, how do we continue with traditions that are so important to maintain our mental well being, our mental health, things that we’ve all looked forward to? 

I’m certainly not telling you to pretend that the holidays are not here and that the seasons are not changing because I don’t think that’s good for you as the caregiver. But what it’s going to require is a different approach. I want you to plan. Perhaps you can no longer just be as impulsive with your activities; plan it out. Continue to decorate if that’s what brings you enjoyment. But perhaps, minimize your decorations. Maybe you don’t have to use everything that you have for that holiday. But instead, just pick a few of your favorite decorations. Anticipate that your loved one is going to struggle so that when it happens, you’re not surprised you’ve expected it, and you can adjust and accommodate to it.

And finally, make the necessary adjustments. Be flexible if your loved one is not doing well. Perhaps because of the decorations that you put out, take them down. If your loved one is having a hard time as people come over and celebrate the change and season the crisp, air, the pumpkin spice lattes if that’s your thing, then step back and find a way that you can have what you need. While not causing distress to your loved one. Perhaps instead of having four or five friends come over, maybe you have one or two come over at a time. I’ve always viewed a change of season is an opportunity for renewal. I look forward to them. I guess I tend to get bored quite easily, so just about the time, I’m bored with the season. The next one is right at the threshold, and I always look forward to that. So again, I am not telling you to close your doors, draw your drapes, and pretend that they are not upon us. Instead, the message is, don’t eliminate, accommodate. We can all have a little bit of what we want while maintaining what we need.

Anyway, I hope you found that helpful. Just a little bit of advice to get you through some of the more stressful times as the seasons’ change and the holidays approach. Go ahead and check me out on Instagram if you haven’t already, and go and check out my website as well. You can find me at I would love for you to subscribe to my podcast. I release new episodes every Tuesday. Feel free to leave me a review as well. I look forward to hearing from you. Thanks so much. have a great week.

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