nursing home resident with nurse

How Daylight Savings Time Can Affect Nursing Home Residents

The start of Daylight Savings Time (DST), which is this weekend, is by far my least favorite annual event,
as it steals precious time away, like a thief in the night. It creates havoc in my sleep schedule and
frequently distorts my proverbial, circadian rhythm. However, setting my own quibbles with this practice
aside, DST can even further disrupt the lives of those in the long-term care setting (especially residents
living with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia), as this sort of time manipulation can
further disorientate and dysregulate all parties involved.

Nursing home residents are known to have complex health needs, whereas they frequently require
structured programs and routines to maintain their well-being. The disruption of DST can increase levels
of confusion and anxiety, which has been alleged to result in increased falls.1 For those with dementia or
other cognitive impairments, the change may result in them struggling to understand why their routines
have changed.

Additionally, many older adults, in general, already struggle with sleep disturbances. This time change
can exacerbate these issues. To help ease the transition of this time change, nursing homes may need to
adjust residents’ bedtime routines. This could include dimming lights in the evening, providing soothing
activities like reading or music, and avoiding stimulating activities like television or computer use. Again,
this could prove difficult with those experiencing Alzheimer’s symptoms and dementia, as they may be
unable to comprehend the reasoning for these changes.

Finally, nursing homes must consider the mental and emotional effects of DST on both residents and
staff. Older adults may experience increased anxiety, confusion, and disorientation during the transition
period. Staff may need to provide additional support and reassurance to help residents feel safe and
secure during this time. As for staff, the New York Times has reported that “…after the loss of one hour
in the spring, the number of human errors (in their medical-setting study) increased by…18.7 percent.
Most of the errors involved medications, administering either the wrong dose or the wrong drug.” 2

In sum, DST can be a difficult time for nursing homes, as their residents and staff may struggle to adjust
to the time change. Nursing homes must be proactive in addressing the effects of DST on their residents
and staff, including issues related to program management, regulating irregular sleep patterns, and the
general, mental and emotional effects of the change. By taking a comprehensive approach, nursing
homes can help residents navigate this transition period and maintain their health and quality of life.