Do you notice that your aging father aimlessly wanders the house after dinner time? Or maybe mom’s normally reserved demeanor gets more combative after she watches her afternoon episode of Jeopardy? While you may be inclined to think that your loved one is just having a rough day, it could be that they are suffering from what is known as sundown syndrome.
What is sundown syndrome?
Sundown syndrome, also known as sundowning, is a symptom of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. This symptom causes individuals to become more confused, agitated, and disoriented in the late afternoons and evenings. It’s most common in individuals with mid- to advanced-stage dementia, but it can affect those who are still in the early stages of the disease. Effects of sundown syndrome can include an abnormally demanding attitude, delusional thinking, wandering, suspiciousness, and visual and auditory hallucinations. The cause is still widely debated in the medical community, but some theorize it is caused by an accumulation of stress and sensory information that is built up during the day.
How to manage sundowning
Because the exact cause of sundown syndrome is still unknown, there is no cure. Fortunately, there are ways you can help your loved one manage this challenging part of the day.
Stick to a schedule
Develop a routine and stick to it. That means eating around the same times, engaging in the same activities, and participating in unchanging habits. Introducing unfamiliar things or routines can cause stress, confusion, and anger. If you need to make modifications, adjust as gradually as possible.
Too much napping and inactivity during the daytime will make it harder to fall asleep at night. The goal is to keep your loved one active and engaged during the daytime, so that once the sun has gone down, resting and sleeping is less of a struggle.
Check eating habits
Consumption habits could be keeping your loved one awake at night. Alcohol, caffeine, heavy foods, and sugary treats can throw off circadian rhythms, so it’s best to avoid these at least four to six hours before bed.
Keep your loved one engaged with simple tasks that won’t challenge or frustrate them. For example, listening to soothing music or taking a short walk are two activities that don’t require high amounts of energy or problem solving. If you see their frustration growing, do your best to redirect their attention instead of arguing or being confrontational.
Maintain a comfortable environment
Surround your senior with comfortable furniture and décor that they cherish. This will help them to remain as relaxed as possible in their environment. Also be sure to limit distractions that might overstimulate them like excess clutter or an open window facing a busy street.
If your loved one shows signs of sundown syndrome, it’s important to be twice as kind, patient, and attentive during these hours. This part of the day can be tough to manage, but it’s not impossible. If your family needs extra support, learn how Home Care by ALTRES Medical can help.