De­men­tia gets more se­vere in the win­ter

Daily Mirror (Northern Ireland) - - LIFE -

We all feel in­vig­o­rated by the sunny days and the long day­light hours of sum­mer. For some it’s more than just feel­ing good. For peo­ple with de­men­tia it’s a shot in the arm.

This is be­cause the sea­sons, and sum­mer in par­tic­u­lar, af­fect our cog­ni­tive abil­ity to think, plan, make de­ci­sions and en­joy our­selves.

Geri­a­tri­cian Dr Jamie Wil­son, writ­ing in the BMJ, de­scribes a study that in­volved more than 3,000 peo­ple across the US, Canada and France which ex­am­ined men­tal func­tion across the sea­sons.

It found peo­ple with de­men­tia were men­tally more alert in sum­mer and au­tumn and, cru­cially, men­tal func­tion de­clined by the equiv­a­lent of nearly five years in the win­ter and spring months.

We know that mil­lions of peo­ple around the globe who have de­men­tia no­tice wors­en­ing cog­ni­tive func­tion dur­ing win­ter when they of­ten be­come un­well and may even re­quire ad­mis­sion to hospi­tal. But what if this was not the case? What if we could pre­vent these peo­ple de­clin­ing to the point at which they need a hospi­tal stay by recog­nis­ing their win­ter needs?

The re­searchers found a 30% in­crease in the like­li­hood of a per­son reach­ing the thresh­old for de­men­tia dur­ing the win­ter months. This sig­nif­i­cant vari­a­tion pro­vides am­ple ev­i­dence for us to con­sider tak­ing a dif­fer­ent ap­proach to di­ag­nos­ing cog­ni­tive de­cline.

These find­ings are also con­sis­tent with our un­der­stand­ing of how sea­sons af­fect other men­tal con­di­tions such as bipo­lar dis­or­der.

This throws new light on how we di­ag­nose and treat de­men­tia. It also opens a door on how we might go about pre­vent­ing the dis­ease. The study au­thors rec­om­mend that more di­ag­noses should be made dur­ing the win­ter as this is when the symp­toms are clear­est.

This would mean build­ing in rou­tine check-ups dur­ing the win­ter months.

The find­ings also af­fect the NHS, which strug­gles with win­ter de­mand – much of this is down to de­men­tia. So mea­sur­ing brain func­tion in the colder months would in­crease the chances of iden­ti­fy­ing prob­lems sooner to the ben­e­fit of pa­tients, their fam­i­lies and the NHS.

What is it about the sum­mer that’s so ben­e­fi­cial to de­men­tia suf­fer­ers? It could be some­thing as ba­sic as more light which would lift the man­u­fac­ture of vi­ta­min D in the skin.

Or the in­creased social ac­tiv­i­ties we all en­gage in dur­ing the sum­mer months, in­clud­ing meet­ing friends and fam­ily, go­ing on hol­i­day and ex­er­cis­ing when the weather is fine.

It’s worth not­ing too that just 20 min­utes of move­ment helps mem­ory.

DR MIRIAM STOP­PARD

Help­ing to keep you fit and healthy

De­cline was the equiv­a­lent to five years

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