If you’re caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease, you may notice that as the sun goes down, your loved one begins to experience changes in behavior or mood. Throughout the evening hours, he or she may become agitated, confused, stressed, or possibly even act out. This is what is known as Sundowner’s Syndrome, and it can affect 1 in 5 of those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
Some common Sundowner’s symptoms include:
In more extreme cases, sundowning can also include yelling, hallucinations, and severe mood swings.
Little is known about the cause of Sundowner’s Syndrome, but we do know a bit about what factors trigger the symptoms. Low lighting can cause shadows and make your loved one confused and/or fearful, for example, or too much stimulation at the end of the day may enhance the symptoms. On the other hand, your loved one may be completely fatigued at the end of the day, or a lack of evening activities can cause restlessness. Internal hormonal imbalances or changes in the brain may also contribute to Sundowner’s symptoms.
As with Alzheimer’s disease, currently there is no cure for sundowning. However, there are some treatment options that can help your loved one get the good night’s sleep needed to improve his or her quality of life.
The key to a Sundowner’s Syndrome treatment plan is to find out what works best for you and your loved one. Here are just a few ways to ease some of the symptoms of sundowning:
Keep the lights on. Before the sun sets, start turning on lights and keep them on into the evening hours. In fact, exposing your loved one to light early on in the day can help set the internal clock correctly. Experts also suggest using light therapy to help alleviate some sundowning symptoms, as it helps reset the body’s internal clock, too.
Create a peaceful and comfortable setting for sleeping. Noise can be distracting to those with Sundowner’s syndrome, so keep the room where your loved one sleeps quiet and private, away from distractions like the television or noisy appliances like the dishwasher. Keep the temperature at a comfortable level, too.
Schedule daily activities and establish a routine. Set regular times for waking, eating and sleeping, with any necessary appointments scheduled earlier in the day. Plan meaningful, structured activities in the afternoon to keep the anxiety levels lower as the sun begins to go down.
Discourage daytime napping. Too much sleep throughout the daytime will prevent your loved one from feeling sleepy when the time comes to go to bed. Discourage naps during the day to help regulate the sleep cycle.
Limit snacks and caffeine after dinner. Caffeine intake should be limited, but especially in the evening hours. Restrict the amount of sweets consumed later in the day, too.
Distract when necessary. If you notice your loved one is getting agitated, distract them with a hand massage or activity to ease anxiety. Speak in a soothing tone and divert his or her attention to something pleasant.
Remember, practicing patience is of the utmost importance when it comes to dealing with the symptoms of Alzheimer’s or sundowning. Stay calm, assuring your loved one that everything is ok and simply remind him or her what time it is. You should also schedule an appointment with a physician to rule out other medical conditions that could be amplifying the condition, like incontinence or side effects from medications.