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.
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)
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.
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.