Why is the Winter Harder for People Living with Dementia?

Few people look at a forecast showing sub-zero temperatures and a blizzard with enthusiasm. Winter’s bad weather makes it a challenging season to like, with most people citing it as their least favourite time of year.

However, the winter can be an especially difficult time of year for people with living Alzheimer’s and dementia. Between its shorter days and colder nights, the chilly season can exacerbate their symptoms.


Here are four reasons why the wintertime can be hard on those who have dementia.

1. Being Cold is Unpleasant

Sometimes, the most obvious answer is the right answer. Being cold can be miserable, especially if you find it hard to warm up. Shivering drains your energy, as your body is constantly working hard to keep warm.

It’s not unusual for seniors to feel the cold before younger people, even if they’re sitting in the same room. Age and health conditions can interfere with how easily the body regulates its core temperature, making it hard to stay warm.

Seniors living with dementia may also be unable to communicate that they’re cold or understand how to get warmer. They might withdraw or lash out instead.

2.Shorter Days Interfere with Their Routine

Long, cold nights and short days prevail in the winter. With fewer hours of sunlight, the winter can interfere with your loved one’s normal schedule.

Few people like it when their schedules get turned upside down. But people living with dementia are especially agitated when their routine is disrupted; it’s worse for those in late stages who might not remember or understand why the days are so short at this time of year.

3. Shorter Days Can Exacerbate Sundowning

The shorter days can also make sundowning worse. Sundowning is a collection of symptoms that are linked to the end of the day. People experiencing sundowning can get anxious or restless once the sun starts to set, and their symptoms may last well into the night.

Since the days end earlier in the winter, sundowning may start earlier at this time of the year.

Talk to your loved one’s dementia care team to discuss how you can manage worsening sundowning symptoms. If you arrange dementia care at home for your loved one, visiting nursing staff and personal care workers can alter their treatments to create a more peaceful atmosphere as the sun sets.

The best at home dementia care agency ensures their team receives ongoing training, resources, and tools to manage the severity of sundowning, as well as a variety of other dementia symptoms.

4. They May Experience SAD

The shorter days and limited sunlight can also cause SAD. Short for Seasonal Affective Disorder, SAD is a is a clinical depressive disorder tied to the seasons, impacting  an estimated 10 million Americans.

Symptoms of SAD typically bookend the winter, largely in part because of the bad weather. Not only are there fewer sunny days, but the season’s extreme weather warnings may cause people to be less active and more isolated than they would be in the summer.

These conditions may exacerbate negative emotions, causing seniors to feel sluggish and uninterested in things they usually enjoy.

The Takeaway:

Winter can be hard on all of us, but especially those living with dementia. As the temperatures drop and the days shorten, check-in with your loved ones. Talk to you at home dementia care team and discuss what you can do to make this season easier on everyone.