Let There Be Lights–For Dementia
Okay, now I’m trying lights. I’ve finally gone ‘round the bend trying to stem the downward spiral of Sundowning. I purchased a light bulb that bathes my parents ceiling and walls with moving, colored lights. Now I find I’ve only scratched the surface as there are projection lights which allow you to:
- Change the color
- Change the pattern and rhythm
- Play music as the lights revolve
- Come with a remote
- Have an automatic timer switch
Is there really any research to support moving, colored lights are therapeutic for Sundowning? https://www.llyarborough.com/2017/07/11/sundowners-dementia-elders-evening/
No, not that I can find. There is research about light exposure during daylight hours much like the light box treatments for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) but that is a completely different approach. More trying to adjust sleep/wake patterns. Moving colored lights are showing up in memory care facilities to stimulate or calm dementia patients. This is a good article on using colors and lighting to help dementia sufferers navigate their environment successfully. https://www.brightfocus.org/alzheimers/article/making-your-home-dementia-friendly
I suspect this devolved from Snoezelen. Snoezelen began with the work of two Dutch therapists in the 1970’s. If you look at examples—they look very 1970’s psychedelic. In fact some of the rooms would make me think I’m hallucinating. The therapy idea eventually made its way to the UK and USA as treatment for children with autism and similar disorders. Now it’s creeping into dementia care.
Keep Calm and Go To Sleep
Our goal was to calm my parents in the evenings. Also, we hoped to wean my parents off late-night TV news-watching which seems to increase Mom’s nightmares and nighttime agitation. She believes the shootings or floods or fires on the news are happening to our family. If not our immediate family, our extended family. Of course, it does not explain why she thought I had a baby last week and since I’m 65 that counts as a nightmare! When I told her I was too old to have children, she asked, “How old are you.” When I told her 65, she looked stunned and said,”You’re 65?”
We’ve asked my dad to please turn off the news after dinner time and either watch something less upsetting or listen to music. To his credit he has tried—sort of—but my mom wants to please him, so his thinly veiled, “Carol, do you watch to watch (cable news TV personality) or would you rather watch this History Channel program on how things are made? My mom could care less how things are made. Besides, how much could she get out of a program like that since she’s blind? Inventions and design are something that interests my dad. Of course she’s going to say news. I asked him if he would think about things she likes.
News, Sports, History Channel?
After nearly 70 years, together you’d think my dad would know what Mom likes but the only other thing he can think of is sports. My mom’s favorite sport is baseball. MLB playoffs were on over a week but does he turn on baseball? No, he finds obscure college football games because he likes football. He doesn’t understand either game but he knows football better than baseball. It’s actually hilarious when I bring her into the room and he tries to explain what’s happening in the game. He has no clue. He tried to tell us Kansas City was playing Oklahoma. Kansas City is a pro team. They would not be playing Oklahoma, a college team. It was actually the Kansas Jay Hawks (college team) playing the Sooners of Oklahoma (college team). His information on scores, PATs (point after touchdowns) are like a comedy routine. He’s not clear on the difference between PATs and field goals. His descriptions are confusing and funny but he’s trying. He tries to find Kansas teams because Mom grew up in Kansas so he thinks she cares about them. She doesn’t. So, Mom basically missed the baseball playoffs. Hopefully she can watch the World Series. Though honestly, she usually falls asleep and doesn’t know who won when it’s over.
(Full disclosure: I don’t understand much about sports either. I just raised two sons who played every sport they could fit into their schedule. I had to learn something or be left out of most conversations. They still don’t want to sit with me at a game. My husband and sons all sit together and discuss things like what pitch the pitcher will throw with a 2-2 count, two outs, go ahead runner on first. All the pitches look alike to me, unless I see it on TV with the camera on it. If I ask a question they look at me like “you’ve got to be kidding.” So I have sympathy for Dad, but it’s still funny.)
We’ve been trying to get Mom and Dad to turn off the TV and listen to music at least by 9 P.M. thinking this will help them wind down and get ready for sleep. We set the moving blue lights so they splash the wall on Mom’s side of the bed. She says she can see them slightly with her remaining peripheral vision. Has it helped? I have no idea. If nothing else it signals them it’s time for bed as they’re on a timer switch and saves me telling them it’s time for bed. It’s a little weird telling your parents to go to bed.
We’re Ready To Try Anything
Mainly, I think it speaks to the desperate measures we caregivers try in attempting to manage unmanageable behaviors. We know it probably won’t work, but we try anyway. Or maybe the lights are for me. I find them calming, a bit like watching a fish tank. My dad enjoys them but he’s always been a big kid who loves toys especially anything related to lights or electricity.
While researching studies on lights in dementia treatment I came across this interesting article on the use of color for memory impaired people. I thought it was interesting. You might too, if like me, you collect arcane facts. It seems all those pop articles I’ve read on what colors to paint your rooms are all wrong. Or they could be right. It seems more studies are needed. So I’m going with what works for us for now. I’ll let you know if we see a change. So far, things seem much the same. My next project is trying to keep her from awakening pre-dawn and insisting everyone else get up too. Bonus–the number of sunrises I’ve watched have exponentially increased.
Have a great caregiving day,