One of the common symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease is called sundowning, or Sundowner’s Syndrome. The term “sundowning” refers to the confusion and agitation that can set in during the evening hours and into the night for some of those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Approximately 20 percent of the more than 5 million Americans with Alzheimer’s are affected by this phenomenon.
Like Alzheimer’s disease, the actual cause of Sundowner’s Syndrome isn’t known. While this means that the treatments for sundowning are also not very well established, there are certain techniques that seem to help ease the symptoms of those suffering from it.
Factors that Trigger Sundowning
Some of the most common factors that can trigger sundowning symptoms like confusion, anxiety, aggression or wandering include:
- Low lighting. Lack of good lighting can increase shadows in the room, causing more confusion and making it more difficult for those already visually challenged.
- End of day activities. Too much stimulation at the end of the day, or lack of structured activities at the end of the day, can enhance sundowning symptoms.
- Change in staff at assisted living community. There can be a lot of activity surrounding shift changes at an assisted living community, which can disrupt a routine and cause anxiety.
- Fatigue. Exhaustion at the end of the day contributes to sundowning, as well as the lack of activity that may occur after dinner, causing restlessness.
- Chemical changes in the brain/hormonal imbalances. There could be an internal hormonal imbalance or disruptions to the body’s internal clock, or even chemical changes in the brain that cause anxiety before falling asleep.
Coping with Sundowner’s Syndrome
It is possible to manage some of the symptoms of Sundowner’s Syndrome; the key is finding an approach that works best for your loved one. Some general tips include:
- Create a predictable routine. Maintain a predictable schedule for waking, meals, activities, and bedtime.
- Encourage daily physical activities. Plan activities that use more energy at the beginning of the day and encourage your loved one to take part in exercise each day.
- Monitor diet. Make sure your loved one is eating a healthy diet, limiting caffeine and sugar to the morning hours. The biggest meal should be eaten during the middle of the day, and keep snacks light after dinner.
- Practice light therapy. There is lighting available that provides full spectrum light, which can help minimize some of the sundowning symptoms. Keep rooms well lit and free of shadows, and use night lights to help reduce stress if your loved one needs to get up in the middle of the night.
- Provide a good sleeping environment. Keep the sleeping area quiet and comfortable. Play soft music and keep the noise level low to help your loved one relax and settle in for the night.
- Discourage daytime naps. Naps should be kept at a minimum, especially if your loved one has trouble sleeping through the night.
- Get medical advice. Certain medications can help your loved one get a good night’s sleep. Just make sure you talk to a doctor first, as some medications can actually disrupt sleep and energy patterns, thus making sundowning symptoms worse.
It’s also important to remember that Sundowner’s Syndrome is part of Alzheimer’s disease, and that your loved one is not purposely acting out in the evening. Try to remain calm to avoid unnecessary stress that can harm your own health.
For more information about Memory Care provided through Auguste’s Cottage at American Senior Communities, please visit http://www.ascseniorcare.com/ac.