Does this scenario sound familiar? Your mom, who has dementia, becomes more confused and uncooperative around 3 p.m. every day. She insists that she needs to go home to cook dinner for her husband and children. You try to console, reason and redirect her, but nothing seems to work.
Sundown Syndrome, or sundowning, is a behavior that often is seen in late afternoon in people living with Alzheimer’s or other related dementia. It is common for people with dementia to experience increased confusion, anxiety, agitation, pacing and disorientation, starting in the evening and possibly continuing through the night.
There are many theories as to what causes sundowning. The exact cause is unknown, however less light and more shadows may be a trigger. Scientists believe that changes in the brain may cause disruption of the body’s internal clock.
You can help manage sundowning with these helpful tips.
- Notice what triggers the behavior and try to eliminate them. Use a journal or app to track their activities, environment and behaviors and look for patterns that may cause the symptoms to become worse.
- Keep a routine with consistent wake times, meal times and bedtime.
- Limit daytime napping. If possible, increase daily activities. This may promote the need for sleep at the appropriate time.
- Schedule doctor appointments and other activities earlier in the day when the person with dementia is feeling their best.
- Do calming activities in the afternoon and at night. Close the blinds and turn on the lights, put on relaxing music, read or go for a walk.
- Use safety devices such as night lights, locks on doors and windows and door sensors.
- Take care of yourself. Sundowning could cause disruption in sleep patterns in yourself as well as your loved one. Also, eat a well-balanced diet and exercise regularly.
- Ask other family members or friends to spend some time with your loved one, so you can enjoy a break.
We usually associate the evening as a relaxing transition from a busy day to a more relaxing time. But, for those who suffer from dementia, it can be a time of increased memory loss, confusion, agitation and even anger. For family members who care for those with dementia, witnessing an increase in their loved one’s symptoms of disorientation at sunset can be troubling, frightening and exhausting. It is important to remember that sundowning is not something your loved one can help. Remaining calm and practicing relaxation techniques will help you and your loved one get through these stressful moments.