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Sundowning: Causes, Symptoms, Solutions

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Sundowning is a common condition that can affect older people with dementia. Knowing what sundowning is, how to identify the symptoms and what to do to help your loved one can help make life easier and more enjoyable for everyone.

What is Sundowning?

The term “sundowning” refers to a personality change that commonly affects people with dementia and Alzheimer’s. Sundowning typically takes effect in the late afternoon and early evening, and is finished by morning.

Symptoms of sundowning include:

  • Restlessness
  • Disorientation or confusion
  • Anger
  • Wandering
  • Suspicion
  • Agitation

It’s believed that about 20 percent of people suffering from Alzheimer’s will experience some degree of sundowning.

What Causes Sundowning?

The cause of sundowning is unknown, although sleep deprivation and sleep disturbances may be linked to this condition. It’s believed that certain problems can trigger or exacerbate this condition. Common triggers include hunger, thirst, pain and depression.

What Can Be Done To Manage Sundowning?

Although sundowning cannot be prevented or cured, it can be controlled. There are many ways to help a person avoid the most severe symptoms.

Control Light Exposure and Light Sources

Light affects our circadian rhythms, which can in turn affect how well we sleep and our mood while awake. Exposure to sunlight during the day can help keep circadian rhythms in check. Spending time outdoors can help orient and wake the body after a long night’s rest.

To help your loved one regulate his or her circadian rhythms, you may also purchase a light therapy lamp and encourage your loved one to sit approximately one foot away from the lamp for a couple hours every morning. At night if your loved on is experiencing symptoms of sundowners, turn on bright lights at home. Add lamps to the house to cut back on shadows and dark corners.

Maintain a Predictable Schedule

Going to bed at the same time each night and waking at the same time each day helps the body get into a rhythm, which can in turn make sleeping easier overall. To make it easier to stick to a schedule, schedule daily activities around these schedules. Plan holiday celebrations, get-togethers and other events around your loved one’s waking, sleeping and meal schedules.

Stay Active

Staying active during the day makes it easier to sleep at night. Plan activities with your loved one that are not too strenuous but which still help your loved one burn energy. Walking and participating in art and craft activities can help your loved one stay engaged. Staying active also helps your loved one avoid excessive napping during the day, which in turn makes your loved one more tired and ready to go to bed when the time comes.

Avoid Stimulants

Caffeine and other stimulants make it harder for your loved one to sleep at night, which can lead to a vicious cycle of sleep deprivation and frequent napping. Avoiding caffeine can help your loved one sleep well at night and stay awake and engaged during the day.

Talk To The Doctor

Your loved one’s doctor can help you troubleshoot sundowners and identify the triggers that affect your loved one. In addition, your loved one’s doctor may be able to prescribe a medication that can help your loved one get to sleep at night, or relax in the evening. To get help, schedule an appointment with your loved one’s physician.

Further Resources:

Contact Us for Support

If you or a loved one are experiencing sundowning, reach out to Primrose. We specialize in supporting those with Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia and their caregivers. We offer expert residential care and an adult daycare option, along with caregiver support. Please contact us for additional information or to schedule a tour.

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