Dementia symptoms fluctuate depending on season


By Alice Tuohy | Tuesday 04 September 2018

PLOS Medicine: Seasonal plasticity of cognition and related biological measures in adults with and without Alzheimer disease: analysis of multiple cohorts

An international team of researchers have identified seasonal changes to measures of people’s memory and dementia risk in people with early stage memory problems and dementia. The findings are published today (Tuesday 4 September) in the scientific publication, PLOS Medicine.

Dr Rosa Sancho, Head of Research of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:

“For most people with dementia, symptoms get steadily worse over the course of several years but there are things that can also impact memory and thinking ability in the short term. We know that factors like sleep quality and mood can affect cognitive performance whether or not someone has dementia, and this study suggests that the time of year may also influence these skills.

“In this research scientists analysed data collected in three large studies of cognitive health in older people, finding that participants who had their memory and thinking skills assessed in  summer and autumn tended to have better scores than those assessed in winter and spring.

“The changing seasons can affect our lifestyle and health in a variety of ways, and while the study doesn’t tell us what might be driving this seasonal variation in cognitive skills, the effect was found in people with and without dementia.

“Interestingly, in addition to the seasonal variation in cognitive skills, researchers found similar fluctuations in biological markers of Alzheimer’s in participants’ spinal fluid.

“The study suggests that researchers may need to take the time of year into account when measuring how diseases like Alzheimer’s develop over time, and there may be a need for additional care and support provision in the winter months but we need to see more work to be sure of these findings.

“Dementia is complex, caused by a mix of age, genetics, and lifestyle factors, and the results of this study don’t mean we should all rush to book sunshine breaks over the winter months. While there is no sure-fire way to prevent dementia, research has highlighted things we can do to reduce our risk of the condition. The best current advice to keep our brain healthy as we age is to exercise regularly, eat a balanced diet, maintain a healthy weight, not smoke, and keep blood pressure and cholesterol in check.”

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Alice Tuohy