When the Clock Falls Back: The Effects on Persons Living with Memory Loss

Vicky Pitner   -  

For most of us in the United States, we will be “falling back” this Sunday, November 6th, as daylight savings time comes to an end. This means that the already waning days of autumn become an hour shorter. Arizona and Hawaii do not participate in this annual time change, and several other states, California, Washington, and Oregon are in the process of passing legislation to stay on permanent daylight savings time.

Research shows that our body’s circadian rhythms and daily sense of routine respond to natural light. While much of our day is spent indoors in artificial light, we are still affected by our outdoor world. Often people report feeling “out of whack” at the end of daylight savings time as it can exacerbate depression and sleep disorders.

For people living with memory loss, this transition can be even more apparent. Approximately 20% of people with dementia experience more confusion at the end of the day and into the night, often referred to as sundown syndrome. Increased anxiety, aggression, pacing, or wandering can also be a symptom of late evening confusion.

It’s theorized that people associate the sun going down with returning home. People with memory loss might be tolerant of staying in a place that feels unfamiliar during the day, but they understandably may become a lot more perturbed at the idea of spending the night. Many people with dementia recall going home from work at dusk or being at home to cook dinner and take care of their children. It’s extremely stressful to feel “trapped” and unable to fulfill these responsibilities. The shadows of dusk can cause visual disruption for people with Alzheimer’s disease, and feeling tired at the end of the day makes everything a little bit harder for people with and without memory loss.

Below are some tips to take for extra preparation for the darker afternoons and evenings on and after November 6th.

  • Take walks or sit outside during daylight as much as possible.
  • Close the blinds in the late afternoon and turn on the inside lights.
  • Take it easy in the early evenings and use calming sensory activities such as using aromatherapy.

If you would like more information on our Memory Ministry, Memory Care, or need tips for supporting persons living with memory loss, please contact Vicky Pitner, CDP at vpitner@firstumc.org