Sunset is often seen as an occasion to celebrate, reflect on our day, spend time with family and unwind. But for those with dementia, sunset can mean a time of increased confusion, frustration and agitation. Also known as “late-day confusion,” Sundowning is a symptom of mid-stage to advanced dementia of Alzheimer’s disease.

How Sundowners Syndrome Affects Individuals

Sundowners Syndrome cause behaviors to escalate, such as mood changes, anger, crying, fear and wandering. Sundowning is thought to be triggered by fading light. The symptoms can get worse as the night goes on and usually gets better by morning.

For family members who care for their loved one with dementia, watching this evening disorientation can be frightening, painful and exhausting. This behavior is disruptive to family routines. The person with dementia needs to be carefully watched and protected. Doors need to be securely locked, constant monitoring, and sleepless nights are a few examples of life with sundowners.

Tips to Reduce Sundowning Symptoms

1. Stay active

Many seniors who experience sundowning syndrome have trouble sleeping at night, causing a vicious cycle of fatigue. It can make it harder for your loved one to fall asleep at bedtime if they experience too much daytime dozing or inactivity. Many of the activities at Coleman Adult Day Services are focused around physical activity – like dance, exercise and more. These activities improve sleep quality and reduce sundowning symptoms.

2. Adjust eating patterns

The time of day when seniors eat can contribute to sundowning and should be monitored carefully. If your loved one usually consumes large meals at night, this can increase their agitation levels and keep them awake longer. Coleman provides a healthy breakfast, balanced lunch and a hearty snack in the late afternoon. This ensures seniors are hungry come dinner time, eat earlier in the evening and help them feel more comfortable and rest easier at night. Avoiding caffeine and alcohol also helps reduce symptoms.

3. Provide comfort and structure

For someone with dementia, the world can become a scary place. Comfort and familiarity help seniors cope with this difficult time in life. Dementia makes it hard to develop and remember new routines, so unfamiliar places and things might cause feelings of stress, confusion, and anger, contributing further to sundowning. Retaining a daily schedule will help your loved one feel calmer, but if you need to make changes, adjustments to their routine must come gradually and minimally.

4. Help with light therapy

Sundowning is often a result of changes in individuals with dementia or Alzheimer’s circadian rhythms, also known as their sleep-wake cycles. Some studies suggest light therapy reduces agitation and confusion in people with dementia. Reduce their symptoms by placing a full-spectrum fluorescent light about one meter away from your loved one for a couple of hours each morning. You can also try brightening the lights when your loved one feels confused or agitated.

5. Minimize their stress

Simple activities like playing soft music or spending time with pets help minimize the stress of loved ones who experience sundowner’s syndrome. This keeps them calm and relaxed in the evening hours. Activities that require more thought and mental processing cause frustration and stress, adding to the confusion and irritability of individuals with mid-stage or advanced dementia. Therefore watching television or reading a book in the evening might increase these stress levels and the symptoms of sundowners syndrome.

6. Pinpoint their triggers

Track your loved one’s daily activities, environments, and behaviors to help identify their triggers. Use a journal or smartphone app to record them, then look for patterns to learn which activities or environments seem to make their symptoms worse. Once you’ve identified these triggers, avoid situations that promote agitation and confusion.

7. Don’t forget self-care

Sundowning syndrome can be exhausting for both loved ones and their caregivers. While you’re often preoccupied with the wellbeing of your loved ones, it’s important to take good care of yourself. A well-balanced diet, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep at night is essential. Your rest and good health allow you to give your loved one the patience and support they need. Our services at Coleman Adult Day Care help you take a break from your caregiving duties to get the self-care you need, while your loved one still receives the support they deserve. Contact us now to schedule a tour or FREE visit.