Sundown Syndrome Solutions

Approximately 20% of dementia patients experience “sundowning”—an increase in symptoms such as confusion, agitation, and restlessness as the sun sets and evening progresses. And, despite the name, the problems associated with sundown syndrome can extend well past twilight, in some cases lasting all night. This article will explain ways loved ones and caregivers can help patients who experience this condition.

Set Up a Routine

The end of the day can be a confusing and stressful time for individuals with dementia. Especially in an assisted living facility, evening if often marked by a flurry of activity as residents have dinners, visitors come after work, and staff changes occur in preparation for the overnight shift. This burst of excitement is then frequently followed by a sudden, and starkly contrasting, lull in activity. To someone suffering from dementia, this level unpredictability can be extremely unsettling, heightening anxiety and other symptoms.  

Establishing a routine may help reassure your loved one that their needs for activity and food will be met and will help them know what to expect next. If possible, schedule more active events in the morning and more soothing activities in the evening. Try to limit major activities to just one or two per day to prevent fatigue.

Provide Adequate Lighting

Changes in light as evening approaches may contribute to sundowning in two different ways. First, as window light is diminished, rooms may become dimmer and shadows may grow larger. Many patients suffering from dementia also have vision problems and the loss of light can make their surroundings seem unfamiliar and even more difficult to navigate.  

Second, individuals with dementia often experience symptoms similar to Seasonal Affective Disorder—the intensifying of depression in the winter when there’s less exposure to natural light. Light therapy using full-spectrum light sources may help reduce these impacts.  

Monitor Diet

Diet changes can also improve sundown syndrome symptoms. Caffeine and sugar in particular should be limited in the evening. If possible, an early dinner and care to avoid heavy snacks after dinner can also make it easier to transition to sleep. Watch out for other specific foods that seem to trigger discomfort in your loved one.

Avoid Daytime Sleeping

Especially if symptoms persist into the night and make it hard for your loved one to sleep, attempt to avoid daytime naps. Make sure that they are given opportunities for exercise and activity during the day that engages them both mentally and physically.  

Look for Medical Causes

Finally, seek a physician’s assistant to rule out any underlying medical issues such as pain, bladder problems, or infections that may be contributing to evening agitation. Review any prescriptions that your loved on is taking to determine if they may be contributing to the sundowning and discuss alternatives if possible.

Sundown Syndrome is just one of many challenges faced by individuals experiencing dementia. By following the suggestions in this article will hopefully reduce evening stress for both those experiencing the symptoms as well as for their caregivers. Learn more by consulting with resources like Grace Assisted Living.

Author: Kim Wilkerson

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