Alzheimer’s Disease and the Full Moon

The banging rang along the halls of the nursing home. A moment before, it was quiet. Now, the regular, rhythmic pounding echoed through the vaulted open area.

I was seated at a conference table. I was attending my second evening meeting with this Alzheimer’s Association caregiver support group.

I knew that the building was built only a few years ago. So the utility systems shouldn’t be making that kind of racket. At least, not quite this soon.

Sheri was sitting across from me. She was on the nursing home staff, and she noticed my puzzled look. She told me, “That’s Mrs. Myerson – trying to open the locked door. Ethel often does that just after her daughter leaves.”

Sheri also pointed out that the full moon was the following Monday – just a week away. She explained that the staff understood how AD residents could act unusually strange at times, and staff would glance at each other and say, “It’s the full moon.”

While the lunar effect was briefly discussed around the table, Sheri made a similar, but briefer, observation about barometric pressure.

I had learned of my friend Carl’s Alzheimer diagnosis only a few months ago. But already, I’d noticed episodes of more unusual behavior – sprinkled in amongst the not so rough times.

After hearing these stories of astronomical and meteorological influence, I wondered whether lunar phase – or atmospheric pressure – could play a role in the variations I was seeing.

Then I wondered whether a little online research would confirm or refute these ideas.

Lunar Influence

I didn’t find a lot of information on this topic – which is a suggestive nugget of information in its own right.

Robert Todd Carroll, of The Skeptics Dictionary web site, wrote an article titled “Full Moon and Lunar Effects” where he reported that the lunar effects which have been identified and studied, have been found to have little or nothing to do with human behavior.

Mr. Carroll observed that the full moon has been linked to a long list of events and effects – including agitated behavior by nursing home residents. He cited a 1996 examination of over 100 studies on lunar effects. The examination concluded that the studies failed to demonstrate a clear correspondence between lunar phase and behavior.

Many people believe that since the moon’s gravitational pull produces the earth’s ocean tides, and since 60-70% of the human body is water, that the moon must effect the human body in a similarly dramatic and rhythmic fashion. But force of gravity is proportional to the mass of an object and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between the objects. Given the minute and bounded mass of fluid contained within the human body, compared to the enormous and free-flowing mass of ocean water, and given the enormous distance to the moon, the lunar pull on the human body is negligible. Closer objects – such as other people entering or leaving the room – would exert a greater gravitational effect.

On the other side of the question, Alan M. Beck of Purdue University conducted a longitudinal study “To objectively examine the lunar influence on the frequency, duration and intensity of behaviors in individuals with Alzheimer’s disease.” (www.nursinglibrary.org)

The behaviors examined were wandering, anxiety, physical aggression, and verbal confrontation. The study concluded that individuals with AD exhibited significantly more behaviors during periods of full moon, and that these behaviors were of a greater duration during the full moon.

Mark LaFlamme, a staff writer and columnist, summarized the lunar effects discussion nicely when he wrote, “The full moon people are not likely to be swayed. The great, white satellite is more than 4.9 million years old and 238,857 miles away. It has more than twice the effect on our tides than the sun. And even those high-brow studies and statistics can’t rule for certain that it has no effect on us all – science in the natural world doesn’t consider the supernatural.” (www.marklaflamme.com/Moon.htm)

Barometric Pressure

I found less information on the effect of barometric pressure on behavior than I found on the effect of tides.

Mike Bockoven, of the Grand Island Independent, described a Veterans Home wing for AD patients. He wrote that you will see a sign reading, “They don’t live in our facility. We work in their home.” That reveals something about the writer’s thinking and about the facility’s thinking.

He wrote that “The staff tells stories of changes in barometric pressure or right before major weather events when, one minute, everything is calm and, the next, problems seem to explode all around them.” (www.livingthroughwindows.com)

The effect of barometric pressure on AD or dementia is suggestive, but it’s probably difficult to demonstrate.

So …

These topics don’t appear to have generated a lot of concern or activity. It would seem unlikely that there are great bodies of work on these topics that are not available to me – when there’s so little that is easily available.

None the less – I think I’ll keep an eye on the moon’s cycle – just for the heck of it. I check the weather online every morning, and I’ll add the lunar phase to the points I note.

Beyond that, I’ll decline to get concerned – or excited. And I will make my own observations.

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12 responses to “Alzheimer’s Disease and the Full Moon

  1. I was doing some research on barometric pressure falling and its affects on Alzheimer patients when I came across your blog. I am curious if you have discovered any more information on this topic. The staff at the nursing home where my grandmother lives do state that when a big storm is out in the Gulf (I live in NW Florida) the dementia and sundowning behaviors are greatly decreased as the pressure drops. Have you heard of this happening?

  2. I have a pain syndrome which is greatly affected by rapid changes in barometric pressure, whether increased or decreased pressure. The effect for me is increased pain. I am also a nurse in a special care unit of a nursing home (all Alzheimers or other dementias). I simply believe it to be common sense that if I am hurting due to barometric changes, surely these elderly who also have physically painful conditions, are experiencing increased pain. The difference is that people with dementia have no inhibitions. In other words, if they are in pain, they will act out by becoming increasingly confused, aggitated, and aggressive. However, I know nothing about affects of the moon on them. I have heard others make such remarks but have never tested it out myself.

  3. Hi Im Pam from England im taking a masters in dementia training and find this interesting so am researching the subject . I feel most people agree the lunar effects but what can we do about the behavior and affects on the people we care for any ideas please contact me Pam

  4. i cam across your article while searching about the effect of moon cycle on health and its wieard to know that there is skeptism about the effect of moon cycle on health while it is written in homeopathic text of medicine (based on observation and proving) that moon cycle have effect on certain kind of people if you are in search of such a thing i advise you to read materia medica pura by hannemann this also available on http://www.archive.org

  5. My father has Parkinson’s and Dementia. I am a first-hand witness that the barometric pressure does indeed have an affect on the dementia. During the month of November, we had a strange occurance in Ohio where we encountered tornado warnings. Both during and 1-2 days after this, the dementia was almost non-existent. After that time period, the dementia worsened. My questions is…is there ANY way to simulate this pressure in a home to lessen the effects of dementia? Possibly an air ionizer or air purifier?

  6. hi from england,my friend and i both have husbands with early onset dementia and we both notice a dramatic change in their behaviour when it is the run up to a full moon,the coincedences in their behaviour cannot be put down to coincidence as we have charted the behavior and the dates and have noticed after a full moon their behavior calms down and we feel able to cope again if anyone else has any experience on this subject i would love to hear from you

  7. My mother has dementia and becomes more agitated, with extremes of behaviour, at the new Moon, and is better at the full Moon. My husband worked with emotionally disturbed children in a residential setting and so many times he would come home after an evening duty, and it would follow true that extremes of behaviour from boys peaked at the full Moon, and for girls at the new Moon. I wish there were more correlative studies on this, but people seem to think it is daft!

  8. I recently watched my dad for several days. He has dementia. One evening he became very combative and acted out when his normal behavior is more compliant. He was also very paranoid and depressed, even saying he wanted to die. It was on the night of a full moon.

  9. We have had a few days of storms (snow) coming into the Panhandle of Texas this month. My mom had been so stable for several months, but with the change in atmospheric pressure, I’ve had late night phone calls from her wanting to talk about why she is in her nursing home. She called tonight very upset wondering where her furniture was. I had the same conversations the week before the last storm. We are expecting one Monday. When I talked to the nurse tonight, she said, it’s the full moon. We always see that. But what I notice is that a couple of days before the storms get here, all the residents, not just Mom, get more active and agitated. I think there might be something in the atmospheric changes. Amarillo is dry most of the time, and we’ve been in a drought for 2 years, but the last 2 times leading up to moisture, Mom has changed to being very upset about her living arrangements.

  10. Naomi Shadwick

    My husband has Alzheimers and I have tracked his increased agitation, confusion and inability to communicate as time progresses to the full moon each month for the past two years. It is my belief that the full moon has a definite effect on him. It usually subsides by the second or third day but the overall time of effect is about 6 days with the full moon occurring in the middle.

  11. Hi, I’ve experienced traumatic brain injury which is healed but know finding still have some symptoms closely related to early signs of dementia. I have been researching to find out if fluctuations in BAP has any effect. I have also started charting my symptoms in relation to fluctuating BAP as best as I can and am finding there is a positive correlation. I do wish a scientist or someone would actually get serious and do some research into this matter so the healthcare profession can see that there is some truth to this and its not all in a persons mind.

  12. My spouse with dementia has certain nights where he is up several times. Ex. the current full moon: up 6 times one night; up 4 or 5 times the next night. This has been going on for a long time and it took me awhile to realize the connection between the full moon and these awful nights of no sleep.

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