Sundown syndrome is a state of confusion affecting people with dementia that occurs in the late afternoon into the night. Sundowning can cause confusion, anxiety, and aggression, as well as wandering, which would naturally worry any caregiver.
Here are some tips for managing sundowning along with factors to look out for that can aggravate sundown syndrome in your loved one.
What Causes Sundowning?
There are many factors that can aggravate sundowning, but The Mayo Clinic notes the most prevalent of causes include:
- Increasing shadows
- Low lighting
- Disruption of a regular daily schedule
- Fatigue or illness
- Disruption of a person’s body clock
- Difficulty separating reality from dreams
How To Cope With Sundowning
If you notice your loved one exhibiting signs of sundowning, the National Institute on Aging recommends you listen to your loved one’s concerns and frustrations and gently reassure them everything is OK. More tips include:
- Reducing clutter, noise, or the number of people in the room
- Distracting your loved one with a favorite activity or object. Offer your loved one a snack, play their favorite song, or suggest a simple task for them to occupy themselves with.
- Having a family member or friend call during this time to help soothe and relax your loved one.
Tips For Preventing Sundowning
1. Maintain a predictable routine
The Alzheimer’s Association notes structured daily activities often reduce agitation. When planning your loved one’s routine, consider their likes, dislikes, interests, and what times of day they function best.
2. Get enough rest at night
When a person with Alzheimer’s disease doesn’t get enough sleep, they can often become agitated and restless, increasing their chances of experiencing sundowning. For that reason, make sure your loved one gets enough sleep and has proper sleep hygiene.
3. Do not serve alcoholic drinks or caffeine
Both substances can cause confusion and anxiety in a person with Alzheimer’s disease.
4. Make sure your loved one has plenty of exposure to light during the day
Sitting near a window or going for a walk may help reset your loved one’s body clock and encourage nighttime sleepiness.
5. Create a soothing environment for your loved one at night
Use a night light to prevent your loved one from becoming anxious due to dark, unfamiliar surroundings. Try to reduce background noise and play familiar, gentle music. White noise machines work well, too: the sound of waves crashing or rain can help your loved one relax in the evening.
If Sundowning Symptoms Persist
Seeking medical advice is one of the first steps you should take if symptoms of sundowning appear, change or worsen. Your loved one’s doctor may be able to find an underlying cause such as an infection or a medication side effect.
Seeking support and advice from others in a similar situation can also help. Exchanging experiences and successes with other caregivers may spark ideas to help you and your loved one alleviate sundowning symptoms. A casual place to meet other caregivers is at The Bristal’s Our Place Memory Café.
Our Place Memory Café is a monthly get-together, designed for people with dementia and their caregivers. For caregivers, it can be both valuable and comforting to meet and share experiences with others. For all in attendance, it’s a relaxing afternoon of entertainment and friendship.