Daylight savings time, first conceived by Benjamin Franklin, changes our schedule to suit our preference. The primary purpose of daylight-saving time is to enjoy more of the daylight, so we either ‘fall’- back or ‘spring’- forward depending on the time of the year. As we move into autumn, we ‘fall’-back to utilize more sunlight in the morning, rather than in the evening. As lovely as it is to see the sun shining when we leave the house, it comes at the cost of our evening light which leaves us late afternoon. This can be a difficult transition to everybody in the household, from your housecat to yourself, as we set our natural circadian rhythm to the pace of the sun. No matter your work schedule, the change in the light affects your brain and routine. As the days get shorter, we are not receiving as much natural vitamin D from the sun and our sleep may be disturbed due to the change in our sleep routine. This can affect your energy level and increase your daily fatigue. For seniors, this change can cause a disturbance in their natural routine and increase confusion and frustration. While unavoidable, there are strategies that you can use to mitigate some of the challenges of daylight-saving time.
Whilst everyone is affected by daylight savings time, some specific issues affect seniors. As stated, the change in routine can cause sleep difficulties, however, this is compounded in risk for seniors as lack of sleep can increase the risk of falls, injuries, and even self-medication errors. This grogginess and confusion can also exacerbate their cognitive ability and reaction time. This can lead to an increased risk of car accidents which spike post daylight saving time change. Another lethal risk that spike post daylight saving time is the increased risk of heart attacks. This increase in dangerous risk can be contributed to the Sundown Syndrome which, according to the Mayo Clinic, is described as “a state of confusion at the end of the day and into the night. Sundowning can cause a variety of behaviors, such as confusion, anxiety, aggression, or ignoring directions. It can also lead to pacing or wandering. Sundowning isn’t a disease, but a group of symptoms that occur at a specific time of the day that may affect people with dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease. The exact cause of this behavior is unknown. Sundowning is stated as being focused around sundown but because of daylight savings time, it is expanded beyond that time.
Tips for Helping Seniors during Daylight Savings Time:
- Prepare Ahead of Time – whether you are going to ‘fall’ back or ‘spring’ forward, there is value in preparing beforehand to mitigate some of the issues. Depending on the circumstances, it would be appropriate to start setting the bedtime routine 15 mins closer to the new time a week in advance.
- Routine – Maintain a consistent schedule, especially in terms of sleep, as it can keep your internal sleep cycle on track. Avoid taking naps as it will affect your sleep routine.
- Outdoor Exercise – Exercising will release excess energy which will help maintain an effective sleep pattern and increase natural vitamin D.
- Vitamins – Now would be a good time to start taking vitamin D and a multi-vitamin to accommodate the decrease in sunlight. This can also help combat the cold & flu season.
- Avoid Stimulants and Depressants– Caffeine, alcohol and other food containing either of these will disrupt sleep and seniors should avoid these during daylight saving time.
Daylight savings time can be a big change and it can be difficult to navigate, however with these tips as well as some careful planning you and your elderly loved one can transition into this new schedule with grace. Ensure that you are being mindful of the dangers of confusion which leads to injury and medication errors. If necessary, consult your doctor if you think your loved one is at risk and needs medical assistance. A personal care worker can be a life-saving safety measure, especially for seniors at a particular risk of injury and medication errors. Having that extra protection can be just the safeguard your family needs.
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