Oct 26, 2018

Does the Change of Season Affect Dementia?

Mother nature has always had a way of influencing the emotions and overall mood of people, regardless of age.

From the cautious yet hopeful look in the eyes of a couple as they peer out the window onto their outdoor wedding venue, through to the disgruntled moaning of the child being brought back inside the house from the park.

When the grey clouds begin to form, teardrops can sometimes fall just as heavily as the raindrops do.

Infact, weather impacts our mentality so much that studies are actually beginning to pinpoint which individual weather element is affecting us and in what capacity.

A 1984 study from the British Journal of Psychology determined that temperature and sunlight exposure had the greatest effect on mood, yet high levels of humidity tended to decrease a person’s ability to concentrate and increased their levels of fatigue.

While the connection between mental capacity and weather has been known for sometime now, a recent study is beginning to shed light on the correlation between pleasant weather and increased cognitive ability, which directly affects those currently living with dementia.

Neurologist Andrew Lim, MD, of  the Sunnybook Health Sciences Centre at the University of Toronto, led an analysis of a group of people in their 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s, looking at all aspects of mental cognition including its biological causes and effects.

The study itself found that changes in mental cognition were strongly associated with seasonal weather changes and researchers believe that if these results are found in future studies, they could one day be harnessed to improve thinking and memory in people with living with dementia.

The subjects of the study had a variety of differing mental capacities ranging from alzheimer’s disease, frontotemporal dementia, nondegenerative dementia, Lewy body disease, and Parkinson’s disease, through to those without any cognitive impairment at all.

Those without cognitive impairment recorded their best scores in terms of mental function and memory in the late summer and early parts of autumn, while the colder months of late winter and early spring yielded the poorest results.

The discrepancy between results were in fact so varied, that those within the grouping who had no cognitive impairment were actually 30% more likely to be diagnosed with having mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s disease in the colder months.

However, these effects of weather on cognitive ability were not observed in participants that were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. And according to Dr Lim, this could actually be a positive thing.

“There is something that still happens even in folks whose brains have a ton of plaques and tangles that allows them to improve in cognition from the late winter to the late summer,” he said.

“This is important, because if we can understand what these mechanisms are—what the source of the plasticity is—then there’s a possibility that we’re going to be able to leverage that.”

Dr Lim suspects that longer duration of daylight hours and warmer temperatures in summer contribute to lifestyle changes that improve cognitive function.

Physical activity, vitamin D from the sunlight, and socializing are definitely more prevalent in the summer months, which may play a big part in cognitive improvement.

David A. Merrill, MD, PhD, a neurologist and adult and geriatric psychiatrist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, believes that being outdoors more often and being more physically active are the answers to cognitive increase.

“There’s a growing body of research [showing] that physical exercise may be the best prescription for preserving and even enhancing cognitive function across the life span,” he said.

“I think it will be important to follow up this study with objective tracking of physical activity levels across the year, and seeing how those vary with cognition across the population level, but also within the individual.”

While answers regarding the weather’s effects on cognitive fluctuation are still in their infancy, the idea that being physically active due to improved weather definitely seems the most basic and logical.

Hopefully these types of studies will open up new doors in the realms of dementia research and cognitive impairment, resulting in groundbreaking ideas that can improve the quality of life for the elderly and their families.

In the meantime though, it might be a good idea to get out and be as active as possible, regardless of whether it’s sunny outside or not.

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