Sundowning is a condition that frequently affects people with dementia. Sundowning can affect a senior's attitude, outlook, behaviors, and even their perceptions of reality. Understanding sundowning is important for people who act as caregivers for their older loved ones. These tips will help people who want to help keep their older relatives safe.
What Is Sundowning?
Sundowning is a condition that results in a temporary personality change in the late afternoon and early evening. Typically, it is older people with dementia or Alzheimer's who suffer from sundowning. The personality change that affects people with sundowning usually goes away when morning comes.
Symptoms of sundowning usually include:
- Anger and frustration
- Feelings of suspiciousness
- Disoriented wandering
- Heightened agitation and feelings of restlessness
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, as many as 20% of people with Alzheimer’s suffer from sundowning.
What Is the Cause of Sundowning?
The exact cause of sundowning is unclear. However, it's believed that a lack of sleep or a disruption to the body's circadian rhythm can cause sundowning. Other factors that could cause sundowning include:
- Shadows and low lights
- Tiredness or exhaustion
- Presence of infection in the body
Some seniors even suffer from sundowning as a reaction to the emotional state of the people around them.
Can Sundowning Be Cured?
No, sundowning cannot be cured. However, it can be managed. There are many ways that this can be done.
Since sundowning seems to be a reaction to a disruption of circadian rhythms, one of the things that caregivers can do to minimize sundowning symptoms is increase exposure to daylight, sunlight, and bright lights.
Going out for a walk, spending time in front of a therapy light, and turning on bright lights at night can all help prevent sundowning symptoms. It also helps to replace dim light bulbs with brighter light bulbs, especially in areas where the affected person spends the most time.
When it's time to go to sleep, it's important to keep the room completely dark. Light-blocking blinds or curtains can help with this. It's also helpful to keep the space around the room quiet so that the senior can relax in peace and quiet.
Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule also helps. Seniors who go to bed at the same time every night and who wake up at the same time every morning are more likely to have regular circadian rhythms. They may also find it easier to sleep consistently throughout the night. In a nursing facility, regular sleep hours are often enforced for this very purpose.
In a home setting, maintaining a rigid sleep schedule can be more challenging. It helps to plan household activities like meals and activities around the senior's sleep schedule. Seniors who experience sundowning should avoid naps during the day because this can make it harder to fall asleep at night and can lead to an inconsistent sleep schedule.
It's also important to avoid stimulants like caffeine and certain cold medicines that can disrupt the sleep cycle and make sleeping more difficult. Although some seniors can give up caffeine without much difficulty, some like to have coffee in the morning. For these seniors, it's important to stop drinking coffee or switch to decaffeinated blends at least 6 hours before it's time to go to sleep.
One more way to minimize the symptoms of sundowning is to stay active during the day. Participating in gentle exercise can help ensure that the senior will feel tired at night and will be able to sleep well when the time comes. Seniors who live at a nursing facility can stay active during the day by participating in group activities and by talking to friends and peers in common areas.
Where Can You Find Out More About Sundowning?
Family members hoping to find out more about sundowning can talk to their family physician or the physicians at a reputable nursing facility.
For more information about sundowning, contact us at Oakridge Gardens Nursing Center. We're happy to answer your questions!