Symptoms of dementia may improve over the summer months, according to new research from a team of international scientists published earlier this month.
The study, carried out earlier this year and published in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS Medicine, analysed data from more than 3,300 older people across three countries.
Researchers found that during the late summer and early autumn months, older adults think more clearly, have better working memory and are more able to concentrate.
The team also looked at the biological markers of Alzheimer’s disease, found in participants’ spinal fluid, and reported that these, too, changed with the seasons.
The findings could help families and others who provide dementia care, by allowing them to plan for increased care resources during the winter and early spring months, when symptoms are likely to be more pronounced, and to take advantage of the “cognitive peak” which comes at around the time of the autumn equinox.
Researchers suggested several reasons for the rise and fall of cognitive health throughout the year, including environmental issues such as light and temperature, and behavioural influences such as sleep and diet, which have already been shown to change depending on the seasons.
The paper also suggests that there is scope for further research into changes caused by fluctuating levels of vitamin D, testosterone and melatonin.
Because the research shows that cognitive function remains flexible, even in participants diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, researchers hope that this discovery could also pave the way for future research, with scientists finding ways to take advantage of this “plasticity” to improve memory and concentration throughout the year.
Although the research is intriguing and will help to inform current and future dementia care, it’s just a small part of the wider research into what is an incredibly complex topic, as Dr Rosa Sancho, Head of Research of Alzheimer’s Research UK, points out.