By: Darleen Mahoney
You’ve heard the term Sundowners syndrome. Are you a caregiver or know someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s that has sundowning? It is a neurological phenomenon that exists with those suffering from a form of dementia or delirium. Sundowning seems to be more frequent in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s disease and mixed dementia.
What causes this syndrome is believed to be caused from the inner “body clock” of the brain that signals when you’re awake and when your asleep, this breaks down in people with Alzheimer’s. There may be specific triggers in your loved one, taking notes to understand these triggers is a good idea.
Factors that may aggravate Sundowners Syndrome:
- Shadows and low light, causing fear
- Separating dreams from reality
- Infection, more commonly a UTI
- Low Lighting
- Unfamiliar environment
Sundowning isn’t a disease on its own, but it is a variety of behaviors that typically occur at a later time of day and may go into the night that affect people with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Those with sundowners are confused, experience anxiety, ignore directions, and potentially show aggression. They may begin to pace or wander.
There are steps that you can take to help manage this challenging time of day as it seems the fading light is the trigger, but the symptoms can get worse throughout the night. As a caregiver, this can be frustrating and exhausting for you. The steps you take will help keep your loved one safe, but also help them reduce their Sundowners symptoms.
- Have a regular daily routine
- No smoking or alcohol use
- Limit sweets and caffeine to the morning
- Smaller meals at night, larger meals at lunchtime
- Avoid late day naps
When it is time to go to sleep, take extra steps to provide a quiet relaxing environment:
- Close curtains and blinds, shadows are a huge problem
- Fix the room temperature to their liking
- Keep the house quiet, noise can make them paranoid
- Especially a visible television with the flashing lights and noise
- Put on relaxing music
You may also consult with your loved one’s physician about Melatonin at night time and any other recommendations that they may have.
You have tried to keep your loved one that is experiencing Sundowners quiet and relaxed, but they are still getting up and they are confused, and you are unsure how to respond.
- Do not argue with them
- Tell them everything is OK, be reassuring
- Let them get up and move around, just stay close to them making sure they are staying away from stairs and anything used to harm themselves
- Remind them what time it is and that its nighttime or bedtime
- DO NOT physically try to restrain from walking around
- Above all….STAY CALM
You may want to consider purchasing a baby monitor to be aware when they are getting up in the middle of the night.
As a caregiver with a loved one with Dementia or Alzheimer’s it’s such an emotional, physical, and time-consuming journey that Sundowner’s is just another piece of a puzzle to this disease that will never truly fit together and make any sense to most caregivers. Taking take to take care of yourself will only make you a better caregiver for your loved one, there is help in the form of support groups in your local areas and The Alzheimer’s and Dementia Resource Center offers support as well. Its also important to get away and have time for yourself, its important to have a well trusted Home Health provider that allows you time away to decompress and refocus so that you can be a better caregiver.