Caring for an aging loved one can be a challenging job, and if your loved one is affected by Alzheimer’s, dementia, or another memory disorder, those challenges may compound. For seniors with dementia or Alzheimer’s, sundowning is a common obstacle. And while it can add an extra layer of difficulty to your older loved one and their caregiver’s day, there are several strategies that can lower its chances of happening and decrease negative symptoms. Here’s everything you need to know about sundowning.

What is Sundowning and What Are the Symptoms?

Sundowning is a group of symptoms experienced by people with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia that occurs during the late afternoon and early evening as sunlight begins to fade. Symptoms of sundowning include confusion, restlessness, irritability, and agitation. When it continues into the night, it can cause insomnia and make it difficult for seniors to sleep. It can also lead to pacing and wandering.

What Causes Sundowning?

Though the exact causes of sundowning are still uncertain, there are several factors that can exacerbate and increase a senior’s chances of experiencing it. The same biological clock impact that Alzheimer’s has in confusing seniors’ sleep-wake cycles can also contribute to sundowning. In addition, being overly tired or fatigued, hungry, thirsty, depressed, or bored, or in pain can cause sundowning. Low lighting, being in an unfamiliar setting, and seeing increased shadows can also aggravate the condition.

How Can You Prevent Sundowning?

Though sundowning isn’t always 100% preventable, there are several strategies caregivers can employ in order to decrease its frequency. Since sundowning’s biggest cause is a disruption in the body’s biological clock, the best way to prevent it is by helping your loved one’s internal clock stay set. During the day, spend time outdoors or by a window to increase your loved one’s exposure to daylight. Make sure they get some form of physical activity or exercise each day. If they need rest during the day, keep naps short and try not to have them late in the day. Avoid caffeine late in the day, and similarly, avoid alcoholic drinks as they can lead to confusion. Try to keep your loved one’s schedule predictable and routine. An overly packed schedule or unfamiliar environment can make sundowning worse.

How to Deal with Symptoms of Sundowning?

When sundowning occurs, any caregiver’s first course of action should be to remain calm and reassure their loved one that their concerns and frustrations are valid but that thing will be OK. The next course of action should be to distract him or her from what’s upsetting them. Offer them a snack, focus on a simple task, or participate in a low-stress activity like putting together a puzzle or listening to music. Reduce clutter in their space and keep stimuli at a minimum, which may involve quick fixes like dimming the lights. If sundowning symptoms persist, seek advice from your loved one’s health care provider. They may be able to suggest a low dose of melatonin or another medicine to aid sleep. It’s also possible that another health condition like a urinary tract or other infection is worsening sundowning, and a health care provider would be able to determine that and treat for both.

If you’ve found that it’s time to employ additional assistance in caring for your senior loved you, St. Martin’s in the Pines is proud to offer comfortable amenities, engaging social events and programming, comprehensive health care services, and a dedicated, caring staff. For more information about the quality of life and memory care services available at St. Martin’s in the Pines, reach out to us today to schedule a tour by clicking here.