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11/20/2012 2:43:00 PM Email this articlePrint this article 
Fall and winter approaches to helping loved ones with dementia

Pam Pasquale R.N.

The days are shorter and the light is starting to fade earlier. Light helps keep our brain chemistry in balance. You may have heard of "Seasonal Affective Disorder," a depression that occurs for some people during the winter months.

For many with dementia, the changes of seasons may mark an increase in what we call, "Sundowners Syndrome." That is a predictable set of behaviors that start occurring as the light fades earlier, that may include restlessness, wandering and obvious anxiety.

This syndrome may not always be eliminated for people with moderate dementia, but there are some things that may be done in the home to minimize it.

First, close the drapes or blinds early and turn on as many bright lights as possible. Change out the light bulbs if needed to keep the rooms well lit with warm tones. Make sure they are getting enough to eat, fluids and guide them to use the bathroom frequently.

Minimize television exposure, especially big screens and close or cover your computer screen after dinner. They put out a different kind of light that has been linked to agitation and sleep disorders.

In my previous Memory article, I mentioned semantic and motor memory that helps us get through out day without thinking about how to dress, brush our teeth, eat and enjoy our activities. We also retain our abilities to participate in hobbies, housework, and some of our earlier work activities

Activities and a daily routine help provide structure and purpose, while maintaining a persons dignity and self worth. The Alzheimers Association has published a wonderful pamphlet that is available at www.alz.org/national/documents/brochure_activities.pdf.

I'll summarize some of their great ideas and approaches.

Keep in mind, a persons' previous habits, interests and abilities and realize that some supervision and guidance may be needed.

Housekeeping: Washing and drying dishes, Dusting, sweeping the floor, helping to do laundry by putting the clothes in the washer/dryer. folding.and sorting socks. Help make the bed.

Mealtime: Let them help chop salads, stir, make toast and sandwiches, prepare boxed meals, and set the table.

With the chores done, here are some suggestions for the day:

Games: cards, Scrabble or Scrabble Junior, bingo, flash card recall, reminiscing. Check the educational store on North Wenatchee Avenue for other ideas.

Music time, playing old favorite CDs or tapes. Avoid just having the radio on in the background.

Play specific favorite movies. Musicals are always a favorite and many different choices available by mail through our wonderful library system or through Netflix instant play.

Singing, including favorite hymns and Christmas carols.

Reading the Bible.

While sitting, kick a soft beach ball back and forth or use a balloon as a volleyball.

Easy jigsaw puzzles with bigger pieces.

Large print easy crossword and word find puzzles.

Cut out pictures and making construction paper scrapbooks.

Taking out photo albums and recall what was happening.

Not all approaches will work and the attention span may be short. But this list may be a way to start developing a unique routine that maintains your loved ones self esteem.

Contact Pam through her website, www.WenatcheeValleyCompassrn.com

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