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What is Sundowning and How to Cope with It

Silhouette Of Woman Assisting an Elderly Person

Sundowning is a common symptom for those dealing with Alzheimer’s or dementia. The gist of the symptom is that as the day progresses into afternoon and evening, the person begins to exhibit confusion, irritability, fear, or general agitation.

Why does this happen? The phenomenon is actually not well understood. It’s most likely related to fatigue, and may also involve the confusion that can develop as the result of less light.

Factors That Make Sundowning Worse

While we don’t know everything about sundowning, certain things have been shown to make it worse:

  • Fatigue
  • Low light and shadows
  • Irregular sleeping patterns
  • Other physical ailments

Strategies for Managing Sundowning

For many people living with dementia, sundowning becomes part of their routine. However, certain approaches can help mitigate its effects.

Keeping the schedule regular

Since fatigue and lack of sleep can make sundowning worse, one of the best practices you can do to keep sundowning at bay is to keep your loved one’s schedule as regular and predictable as possible. Waking up, meals, and activity times at regular points of the day can make for a more predictable day and less pronounced sundowning.

Counterintuitively, afternoon napping does not seem to help

It can actually add more confusion to your loved one’s day.

Limit caffeine and sugar

If your loved one consumes caffeine, keep it to mornings only. Even sugary foods or beverages, like soda, can cause overexcitement and a corresponding crash that makes sundowning more pronounced.

Reduce other stimulation as the day progresses

If your loved one has trigger events that make him or her agitated, try to reduce these factors as the day progresses to ease the symptoms of sundowning.

Keep the house well-lit

This can make a huge difference, since sundowning seems to be exacerbated by low light and shadows.

Play familiar music

This has been shown to ease the feelings of confusion and help put your loved one in a good mood.

Other Tips

If you find that your loved one’s sundowning symptoms are overwhelming or hard to control, you may want to speak with their doctor about it, who may be able to adjust their medication accordingly to try to minimize the symptoms.

Additionally, if you’re still having trouble managing your loved one’s symptoms, it may be time to consider getting some extra help with in-home care by a knowledgeable person who has experience with managing dementia symptoms.

To get a better idea of where your loved one stands right now, and what level of support you would ideally be offering him or her, check out our Home Care Quiz, which assesses 6 key areas of well being:

  • Eating Habits
  • Personal Hygiene
  • Care of Home
  • Safety/Mental Attitude
  • Mobility
  • Behavior

At the end of our Home Care Quiz, you’ll also have the opportunity to schedule a 30-Min virtual one-on-one session with Scott, our Memory Care Program Director, to get all your questions answered!

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