Managing Sundowners Syndrome

If you’re like most people, you greet the evening hours with a sigh of relief. The hard work of the day is over, and it’s time to relax. For millions of people suffering from dementia, however, the later hours of the day bring on agitation and confusion. This phenomenon is called “sundowning,” and it most commonly affects those who have mid-stage and advanced dementia.

By following a few tips, you can reduce sundowning symptoms, providing a much needed break for both the person suffering and their caregiver alike.

Common Triggers for Sundowning

While the transitions that take place in the evening are welcomed by most of us, they can agitate someone with dementia. Here are some of the most common triggers for someone with sundowning syndrome.

Too Much Activity

If the end of the day is marked with an overabundance of activity—shift changes, visitors coming and going, dinner, bathing and anything else that may take place—you may notice that symptoms increase. This activity can cause someone with dementia to experience confusion and nervousness.

Insufficient Lighting

Particularly if your senior loved one is in a space where they enjoy a lot of natural light, the setting sun can cause disorientation. If the one suffering from sundowning syndrome has difficulties with their vision, the low light may make their vision problems even worse.

The Winter Months

The shorter days and longer nights of the winter months can worsen the symptoms of sundowning. Especially in seniors that already suffer from depression, this reduced exposure to natural sunlight can cause Seasonal Affective Disorder, which in turn can exacerbate symptoms of sundowning.

Reducing Sundowning Symptoms

Although it may not be possible to completely eliminate troublesome symptoms, there are a few measures you can take to reduce them.

Track the Triggers

While there are certain triggers that seem to consistently cause symptoms, each person is unique. To pinpoint the specific triggers that worsen your loved one’s behavior, keep a journal of the environment, any activities, foods eaten and naps taken. This will help you see any trends with both good days and bad.

Maintain a Consistent Schedule

Dementia can make it difficult to put new schedules into place. Anything out of the ordinary, such as a different food or a new face, can cause confusion and agitation. During the evening, schedule soothing activities, such as watching movies, reading and calling family members. If possible, try to stick with a familiar schedule. If changes are absolutely necessary, try to introduce them gradually.

Promote Healthy Sleep

Many people that experienced sundowning symptoms also deal with insomnia. To prevent insomnia, try to limit naps during the day. Hours of uninterrupted daytime sleep can confuse the body and make it difficult to wind down at the end of the day. In addition to limiting naps, try to incorporate some gentle exercise every day.

Turn on a Light

Because sundowning syndrome is believed to be tied to the body’s circadian rhythms and the vision problems that worsen as the sun sets, it may be beneficial to keep the room bright and well-lit through the late afternoon and evening.

By minimizing the symptoms and triggers of sundowning, you can greatly improve the quality of life for both you and the senior in your care.