Preparing Seniors for a Time Change- "Falling Back" in November

by Allie Brito September 29, 2016

Preparing Seniors for a Time Change- "Falling Back" in November

It’s time to start getting ready for that time most of us dread—the end of daylight-saving time this year. On Sunday, November 6, 2016, when the clock turns 2:00 AM, it will be time to turn them back one hour so they read 1:00AM. Daylight-saving time (yes, that is the correct way to say it) began during World War I as an effort to decrease energy use and save money. The question on whether or not this tactic actually saves energy is still up for debate. In fact recently, there has been strong support, especially by aging adults, for abolishing the time change all together due to the negative impact and disruptions it can cause.

Some look at DST ending this fall as getting to enjoy a brighter morning (the sun will seem to rise earlier), and more sleep at night. For sleep deprived caregivers, this extra hour of sleep is a gift, but the effects that DST has on seniors must be considered as we head into this fall’s time change. Here are some of the effects that “falling back” can have on senior health and well being:

  • Less Daylight- Productive human activity usually occurs during daylight hours, thus the reason society schedules normal work hours during this time; our brains simply function better during the day when it is light. Less of this natural light may cause you or your loved one to feel less energetic during the day, making even the simplest tasks more difficult to complete for a person that’s aging.
  • Disrupted Sleep Schedule- Our body’s internal circadian rhythm will likely be thrown off whether it’s the start or end of DST. Since light dictates how much melatonin our bodies produce (the hormone that makes us feel sleepy), the sun setting earlier is bound to cause the average person to feel a little off come sundown. For seniors and caregivers alike, this disrupted sleep schedule can be difficult to adjust to and feel as if you’ve jumped back in time zones.
  • Sundowner’s Syndrome- If you think that you get depressed from the shorter days and longer nights, imagine how someone with sundowner’s syndrome might feel—yes, I said sundowner’s. Sundowner’s syndrome, a common ailment seen in seniors who suffer from Alzheimer’s Disease or other forms of Dementia, causes agitation, confusion, anger and even more memory loss than usual once the sun goes down. For those seniors who suffer from Sundowner’s symptoms such as pacing or wandering, feelings of being overwhelmed or flustered, daylight savings time can exacerbate the existing symptoms of Dementia. It can be particularly difficult for loved ones and caregivers to watch a senior they care about suddenly feel confused as a result of a disrupted or changed schedule from the time change.
  • Heart Attack Increases (during the start of DST)- A study in the American Journal of Cardiology as well as other previous studies showed that during the first week of daylight saving time, there is a spike in the number of heart attacks. Most suspect that this is due to the hour of sleep loss increasing stress for individuals.

Preparing seniors for Daylight Saving Time

The fact is, we cannot change the fact that our days will soon become shorter. The effects of seasonality on all of us differ, but for seniors this can be a particularly rough time of year. As a caregiver or loved one of a senior, we must always be thinking two steps ahead in order to offer the best level of assistance to our loved one. Here are a few tips on how to prepare your senior for the upcoming time change:

  • Consider Preparing Far in Advance- I am talking a month at least. This is something my own Grandmother has done for years. For example, if your loved one takes naps during the day at a specific time, let’s say noon, suggest they wait an additional 15 minutes each week to take their nap starting October 1st. The first week they should change their nap from 12:00 PM to 12:15 PM. The second week they should wait until 12:30 PM to nap and so on. By the time November 6th comes around, they will feel less affected by losing an entire hour of their day. You can also do this with bedtime schedules; i.e. going to bed 15 minutes later each week in October. 
  • Don’t forget to change all clocks around the house—watches included. Also, as you perform this task, it wouldn’t hurt to check or change batteries on any of these items.
  • Check any automated systems- After the time change, don't overlook checking any automated systems that run on timers, such as alarms, medication dispensers and automatic lights around the house or property.
  • Mark it on the calendar- If your loved one is unaware that the time change is coming, make sure to mark it off on their calendar and continue the conversation about it as we get closer to the date of the “fall back” or “spring forward” time change.

Regardless of what age we are, we all cope with change differently. Whether it's changing a location, starting a new job, retiring from a new job, or simply losing an hour of daylight. When it comes to this upcoming time change, how will you cope? Do you love it? Do you hate it? Tell us your opinion! 


Allie Brito
Allie Brito