Light in the Darkness

Light in the Darkness

Regardless of faith, tradition, or background—winter’s darkness calls for increased light. If you have lived with dementia for any amount of time, you feel the darkness at a different level—wishing for light. A common behavioral manifestation for an individual with dementia is night-time wakefulness.  Usually accompanied by agitation, this behavior leaves dementia caregivers overtired and overwhelmed.

Research shows that season and weather significantly affect nocturnal rest for the individual with dementia.1 In this study, the researchers defined nocturnal rest as the five consecutive hours with the least motor activity during a 24-hour day.  Using this criterion, the study showed the most predictable variable of activity.  The findings were that day length and cloud amount were associated with night-time activity. Specifically, nursing home residents with dementia were more active at night on cloudy short days than on clear short days. The researchers concluded that adding extra internal lighting to the shorter and cloudier days could be an anecdote to the night-time wakefulness.2

Research has shown there is much more to the sleep-wake cycle of an individual with Alzheimer’s than weather and day length.  Circadian rhythm, the natural internal process regulating sleep-wake cycle, has been shown to have a bi-directional interaction. Sleep disruption actually influences the cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s disease as Alzheimer’s disease influences the individual’s circadian rhythm.3 The use of melatonin and bright light therapy are suggested as anecdotes to help the sleep-wake cycle.

For centuries, cultures far and wide have worked to increase light in the dark days of winter.  As you enter winter as a dementia caregiver, consider ways to brighten the darkness with bright light and décor reminiscent of the season. Embrace the warmth and light of the fireplace, the light of no-flame candles, and the treats that bring you light. They just might bring you sleep.


1Wahnschaffe, A.,  Nowozin, C., Rath, A.Floessner, T., et al. (2017). Night-time activity forecast by season and weather in a longitudinal design – natural light effects on three years’ rest-activity cycles in nursing home residents with dementia, International Psychogeriatrics, 29(12): 2071-2080.

2Mitolo, M., Tonon, C., La Morgia, C., Testa, C., Carelli, V., et al. (2018).  Effects of light treatment on sleep, cognition, mood, and behavior in Alzheimer’s Disease: A systematic review, Dementia & Geriatric Cognitive Disorders, 46(5-6): 371-384.

3 Saeed, Y., Abbott, S.M. (2017). Circadian disruption associated with Alzheimer’s Disease, Current Neurology & Neuroscience Report, 17(4): 29.

Author: Cate
Passionate about dementia care and quality of life throughout the last days of life----sums up Cate McCarty, Dr. Cate, Dementia Coach. With close to forty years of long-term care experience in nursing and recreation, a Master's in Thanatology and a PhD in Aging Studies, Dr. Cate seizes every opportunity to translate research into quality of life for individuals with dementia and all of us who have the honor to "rub elbows" with them.

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