Seasonal Change and Dementia

Seasonal change and dementia symptoms are definitely linked. My mother’s condition remained steady through the warm summer months. But I see a shift in her behavior now that autumn has brought some chill to our evenings. Sometimes Mom can barely move.

Seasonal Change and Dementia

It’s not surprising that changing seasons affect the behavior of people with #dementia. Squirrels in our forest speed up their scavenging when fall arrives. Hungry bears start rooting through our trash. The first red and gold maple leaves make me check the oil tank. The Pocono region — where Mom lives — has a beautiful fall foliage season. Though autumn leaves bring tremendous beauty, they are accompanied by big symptom shifts. #Caregivers need to be aware of new needs.

Seasonal change and dementia symptoms

As soon as the weather turns cool, my mother’s joints seem to freeze up. I crank up the heater and drape her in blankets. These things help but there’s no treatment that fully relieves her stiffness. Lately she’s been pinching us really hard while we’re changing her clothes. She’s incapable of loosening her grip once she has a hold on something — and that something is usually me! Chilly mornings make her teeth chatter, too.  I have to dress her in layers even if it will reach 80 degrees later in the day.

I always thought Mom’s need for heat was driven by her peculiar body thermostat. But this week I came across some research that found a link between body temperature and the progression of dementia. A Canadian scientific team has been examining how dementia develops in transgenic mice [mice that carry Alzheimer’s genes]. Their evidence suggests that dementia symptoms get worse in those who have lower body temperatures. The research team, led by Dr. Frederic Calon, discovered that “symptoms of Alzheimer’s were mitigated when the transgenic mice were exposed to warmer temperatures.” Dr. Calon believes that this could lead to new treatment options, since “body temperature can be increased through physical activity, diet, drugs” or raising room temperatures.

I’ve often rolled my eyes at my mom’s compulsive need for warmth. Her desire for a blanket in mid-summer seems totally irrational. But after reviewing this research, I see that her craving for heat could be an instinctive effort to heal herself. The autumn leaves always make me pause for reflection and, now, so does this research.

Labor and Caregiving

Labor and caregiving are not the same. Sometimes #caregiving requires heavy labor — and highly valued labor must usually be done with care. In both cases, one factor changes everything: Love. We work best when we love what we do and when we view caregiving as a labor of love.

Labor and Caregiving

Unfortunately, we can’t always be at our best because the job of a #caregiver is so demanding. We are often exhausted even when things are going well. All people who labor should stop and recognize the value of their work on Labor Day.  For caregivers, however, ceasing to labor is often impossible. If we rest when there’s no one to back us up, chaos takes over.

Labor Day for Caregivers

My mother needs 24 hour care. Mom’s daily needs cannot be met without me even when she has an aide. However, I have developed certain rules for holidays. These commandments are designed to reduce my stress while I still meet ordinary responsibilities. On Labor Day I refuse to:

  • Touch the stove, except to boil water or reheat leftovers
  • Turn on the washing machine
  • Pull weeds or get anywhere near the lawn mower
  • Pay bills or look at medical paperwork of any kind

These tasks are so common, I rarely notice how much of my time they consume. Nevertheless, even while cutting myself a few small breaks, I will still have to:

  • Lift my mother in and out of bed
  • Measure out medication
  • Offer some kind of food contribution at a family barbecue
  • Be a hostess to visiting guests

I can relax a bit while fulfilling these tasks because I am determined to do only what’s necessary. I don’t have to be perfect and I refuse to be stressed. The word holiday goes out the window as soon as you get wound up about your responsibilities,

Instead, I plan to put my feet up and do a little remembering. One hundred years ago it was much more dangerous to be a U.S. worker. I’m from the anthracite region of Pennsylvania. Many people in our region died in the mines while trying to feed their families. I can only imagine what it was like to be a caregiver then: wringer washers, wood burning stoves, outhouses! I want a break from caregiving, but I don’t want to travel back in time. Despite the challenges I’m grateful to be a 21st century #caregiver with a passion for my (unpaid) job.