For some people with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, the evening hours can bring increased agitation, confusion, and restlessness. Some may even experience hallucinations or energy surges. This unusual evening behavior is commonly known as “sundowning” or “sundown syndrome” and typically occurs as the daylight fades in the late afternoon and early evening.
Andrea Korsunsky, Director of Seniors At Home’s Center for Dementia Care, says, “Sundowning is more likely to affect those who are in the mid or late stages of dementia. And while doctors are not certain what causes sundowning, fading light appears to be the trigger.”
If you are caring for someone that experiences sundowning, there are various ways to minimize the behaviors during this challenging part of the day. Below are Andrea’s top tips to manage the severity of sundown syndrome:
Keep the home well-lit in the evenings. Provide adequate lighting to lessen shadows when it begins to get dark. Since fading light can be a trigger, maintaining a well-lit environment can minimize the change in behavior.
Keep your loved one active and distracted at the time when sundowning may occur. For example, have them help prepare dinner, set the table, or take on another simple task at that time.
Create a safe and comfortable sleeping environment. Keep the room temperature moderate for sleeping and provide nightlights (if desired) and any other security means to help the person with dementia feel safe, reducing agitation.
Stick to a strict and predictable schedule. Maintaining a daily schedule is key to keeping a healthy sleep pattern, reducing the likelihood for sundowning later in the day. In addition, planning regular exercise or activities during the day (such as brisk walks, the stationary bike, or social day programs) may reduce restlessness at night.
Avoid stimulants. Alcohol, coffee, soda, and nicotine can all interfere with sleep cycles, especially for those experiencing dementia.
Keep a journal. Record the times when sundowning occurs—this can help you pinpoint triggers and determine which strategies help to ease them.
Surround the person with dementia with familiar and comforting things. Whether it is a comfortable chair, pictures of loved ones, favorite music, or a particular smell (lavender, pine, etc.), these items may ease agitation or disorientation.
Talk to a professional. If symptoms of sundowning are impacting quality of life for you and the person you care for, consider seeking a professional dementia care consultation. Dementia care experts can help you determine underlying causes of sundowning and to put new strategies in place to reduce challenging behaviors.
For someone with dementia, the world becomes an unfamiliar place. Sundowning only increases agitation. Making these minor adjustments can make a distinct difference in your loved one’s ability (and yours!) to stay calm and comfortable during the evening hours.