My favorite day of the year is Dec. 22! It has nothing to do with Christmas being just a few days away, or the fact that I might possibly be done shopping by then. It has to do with daylight.
On Dec. 22, we have two more seconds of daylight than we did on Dec. 21. I know it’s little but I think it’s noticeable. Today (Jan. 18) we have 29 minutes and 12 seconds more daylight than we did on Dec. 21. See it’s making a big difference, fast.
We joke, but days of very little sun and normally (I guess it’s normal around here) low temperatures can really affect our mental and physical well-being. Personally, I don’t feel like I have as much energy, I want to go to bed earlier, and it sounds good to just plain crawl up in a little ball and do very little in the long, dark evenings.
If this 15 hours of darkness per day affects me (a person who has the routine of getting up and out of the house every day), how must it affect those who don’t have that routine? I’m thinking of our older population. They typically don’t have obligations where they need to leave the house every day. In fact, seniors are encouraged to stay home where it’s safe and warm. They also tend to not drive as much in the dark, which limits their times to actually get out of the house. They probably get fewer visitors this time of year, and because of this are lacking that companionship which is so important.
On top of all this, nighttime (darkness) can be frightening time for seniors, especially those living alone. Many problems that occur with seniors at nights are rooted in the physical changes that take place as the result of aging and therefore affect their sleep patterns. Some barriers that can limit quality sleep for seniors are: Congestive heart failure which prevents people from resting in a flat position; arthritis pain which can keep sufferers awake; bladder or prostate problems that prompt people to get up for repeated bathroom breaks; and even certain medications for certain diseases can impact a good night’s sleep.
These physical issues and lack of good sleep can also contribute to the psychological anxiety that seniors may experience when darkness falls. Many seniors undoubtedly are anxious because they know it’s harder to reach help at night. And there’s more time to think about the things that might be going wrong.
The good news is that there are some simple things that may be very beneficial to help our seniors cope with these 15 hours of darkness each day. Simple companionship during the onset of darkness can be very beneficial to make the difference between seniors having peace of mind or being afraid in their own homes. Make an extra effort to spend time during the dark hours with the senior in your life.
Other simple things that can help older adults feel more secure at night:
• Encourage seniors to obtain a lifeline, which is a button they can push to summon medical help if they need it.
• At night play soft music which has a calming effect.
• Install night lights to make it easier for seniors to see when they get up at night.
• Light the outside of the house and set timers to activate some indoor lights. Older adults feel more secure knowing their house is illuminated.
• Let your older loved ones know they can call you. Put your number or that of another family member or friend on speed dial.
• Reassure them the house is secure and rehearse them on the process to make sure their doors and windows are locked.
• Make sure the interior of the house is safe by installing grab bars and getting rid of throw rugs.
• Consider climate control but make sure the house isn’t too hot or too cold.
• Encourage a set routine which helps a senior feel less anxious.
I guess there’s no time for me to curl up in that little ball after all. I really need to make a visit to one of my older friends during these long days of dark hours. I bet there’s something I could do for them, or maybe they will share some stories of where they’ve been in life. I bet there will be some good food to share, and always coffee. Wait ... maybe there’s something they will do for me.
DEB CRANNY is the executive director at Home Instead Senior Care in Brainerd.