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Short-Term Changes in Symptoms

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: May 2023

Alzheimer’s symptoms change over time. Over the course of a person’s life, symptoms may start, improve, or worsen. Symptoms and quality of life tend to decline overall as time goes on. But there are also differences in symptoms that come in cycles, like over days or years.1-3

Caregivers may notice that someone with Alzheimer’s gets better sometimes and worse other times. This is completely normal. Understanding these changes can help caregivers prepare for the harder times. It may also lighten the pressure during easier times. These shifts can feel frustrating or unpredictable at first. But knowing patterns can guide how you respond to them.1-3

Daily variations in symptoms

As many caregivers can attest, people with Alzheimer’s can feel better or worse depending on the day. Good days for people with Alzheimer’s usually involve:1

  • Improved thinking (cognition)
  • Interest in their surroundings
  • Attempts to communicate

Bad days usually involve:1

  • Poor memory
  • Agitation
  • Disruption

Sleep disturbances are a common Alzheimer’s symptom. Sleep disturbances have also been linked to risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Less sleep and poorer sleep lead to worse Alzheimer’s symptoms. Nightly variation in sleep quality strongly contributes to daily changes in thinking, mood, and behavior.1

For people with Alzheimer’s, it is harder for their brains to recover after a poor night of sleep. So sleep disturbances affect daily quality of life in people with Alzheimer’s more than in other people. Because of this, it is even more important for people with Alzheimer's to get quality sleep.1

Seasonal variations

The seasons of the year affect many parts of biology. Throughout the year, the human body and brain change to adjust to changing daylight, weather, and more. In all adults, the season has a significant effect on thinking, mood, and behavior. This is true whether you have Alzheimer's or not.3

Researchers have found that proteins that cause Alzheimer’s also have seasonal changes. So do specific Alzheimer’s-related genes in the brain.3

People in general show better thinking and concentration in late summer and early fall than in winter and spring. For people with Alzheimer's, better thinking and concentration is linked to improved symptoms. This may give doctors a clue into how seasonal changes are happening.3

Variations based on weather

There is no proof that weather influences Alzheimer’s symptoms. Researchers have found conflicting evidence about weather effects. Some studies say that weather causes changes in cognitive symptoms.4

But many of the studies that argue for weather effects are limited by:4

  • A small number of patients
  • The design of the study
  • Weather-related changes in MRI scanning

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s can change over time. This is true not only as Alzheimer’s progresses but also between days or even seasons. For daily variation, sleep quality is key. Good-quality sleep during the night can help thinking, mood, and behavior. So can mental or physical activity during the day. With seasonal changes, people with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers may need more support during winter and spring.1-3

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