Should Daylight Savings Time be year-round? We, as a country, seem to ask ourselves that question every time we set the clocks ahead an hour in March. Making Daylight Savings Time (DST) permanent would have enormous implications for all Americans – especially seniors – and is worthy of debate. Earlier this month, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), reintroduced the bipartisan Sunshine Protection Act, which would permanently replace Standard Time (ST) with DST beginning in November of 2023.
The legislation, which did not come up for a vote in the House last year, is spurred by mounting concerns about the negative effects of lurching back and forth between DST and ST.
“Some researchers blame the switch between Standard and Daylight Saving Time for a number of social ills, including lost productivity and increased health stress, as people’s bodies adjust to the time change.” – Fortune, 3/16/22
There has been significant discussion of how making Daylight Saving Time permanent might affect children and teens – but scant dialogue about the impact on seniors. Is permanent Daylight Saving Time good for older people? There’s no clear-cut answer. One thing is certain: switching back and forth from DST to ST isn’t healthy for anyone – seniors in particular. Here are some of the reasons why:
*Changes in sunrise and sunset times can cause sleep deprivation, which is linked to higher rates of obesity, diabetes, dementia, and other health issues. Seniors already are more susceptible to sleep problems than younger adults.
*Switching the clock twice a year can worsen the problem of “sundowning” in dementia — where cognitive issues in some seniors flare up when the sun sets.
*Disrupting normal sleeping and waking patterns can increase the risk of falls for older people.
*Changes in the clock also can compromise seniors’ ability to take medications on time and as directed.
The case against “springing ahead” and “falling backward” every year seems pretty solid. That leaves the question as to whether a permanent Daylight Saving Time is inherently unhealthy for seniors. The most serious objection to DST (relevant to older people) is that the sun rising and setting later in the day doesn’t align with most people’s biological rhythms or ‘body clocks.’
“Sleep scientists argue the choice of Daylight Saving Time over standard time would leave Americans permanently out of sync with their natural schedule and potentially lead to a range of health issues. – Fortune, 3/16/22
This means that seniors who naturally wake up and go to bed early may not be able to adjust to the darker mornings and brighter evenings of a permanent Daylight Saving Time. It could be especially problematic for older people in the Northernmost states, where the sun would not come up much earlier than 9 a.m. during the winter.
In addition to the health risks of seniors’ being physically out of sync with Daylight Savings Time, there are safety considerations, too. Seniors who venture out for groceries, medical appointments, and other priorities early in the morning before the sun rises may be more likely to injure themselves.
The winter sun would not rise until almost 9am in some Northern states if Daylight Savings Time is made permanent
“Seniors have the additional problems of not just decreased light, but the cold. People worry about icy sidewalks and slipping, falling and breaking a hip,” says Dr. Benjamin Liptzin, of Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, MA, who says that adjusting to the seasonal change may have negative consequences “if not managed properly.”
Nevertheless, public polling indicates that a majority of Americans support making DST permanent, which is probably one reason why the Senate rushed through the new legislation without even a roll call vote. Now that the bill is in the hands of the House of Representatives, seniors’ advocates can rightly insist that lawmakers consider all of the risks and benefits – not just to children and teenagers, but to older people – before altering something as fundamental as the way we keep time.