Everything seems a little better in the light of day. If your loved one has been diagnosed with dementia, you may notice them experiencing agitation as the sun goes down. You’re not imagining things: Chances are, they are suffering from a phenomenon known as “sundown syndrome,” or “sundowning.” But what is sundowning, and how can you reduce its effects on your loved one?
What Is Sundowning?
What Causes Sundowning?
Also known as “late-day confusion,” sundowning is a phenomenon during which individuals with dementia may grow agitated or anxious as the day turns into night. Individuals with dementia are particularly vulnerable to sundowning because of their tendency toward disorientation. That can lead to an increased fear of the dark – even trouble separating dreams from reality. While the exact cause of sundowning is still unknown, a common theory is that the thalamus, the area of the brain that signals when you’re awake or asleep, breaks down as Alzheimer’s progresses. While there is no cure for the condition, there are several factors that worsen sundowning symptoms:
- Exhaustion or lack of sleep
- Hunger or thirst
- Boredom or lack of stimulation
Symptoms of Sundowning
Sundowning symptoms typically get worse as the night goes on and are usually improved by morning. Common symptoms include all the following:
- General agitation and anxiety
- Irritability, mood swings, and outbursts
- Suspicious or demanding behavior
Sundowning can dramatically impact the quality of your loved one’s sleep. That, in turn, can speed up the progression of their disease. Although you can’t stop sundowning altogether, you can take steps to reduce your loved one’s sundowning symptoms so they can sleep more soundly.
Stick to a Routine
If your loved one has dementia, they may struggle when faced with new routines. Make sure your loved one sticks to the same schedule every day to reduce feelings of stress and help them feel at ease in their surroundings.
Try Light Therapy
As your loved one’s disease progresses, their circadian rhythms may break down. Make sure your loved one has light exposure – either through a strong artificial light or sunlight – first thing in the morning to help their body recognize that it’s time to wake up. Additionally, the Mayo Clinic recommends adding a night light to your loved one’s sleeping area or turning on the lights when they feel agitated.
Watch the Caffeine
Substances like caffeine or alcohol can worsen sundowning symptoms, especially when consumed close to bedtime. Encourage your loved one to reduce their caffeine and alcohol intake, perhaps limiting it to a cup of coffee in the morning and the occasional glass of wine, to help them rest better at night.
Make Your Loved One Comfortable
This step is key. If your loved one is struggling with dementia, they likely grapple with frequent feelings of fear and anxiety. Take every effort to fill your loved one’s space with things they find comforting – blankets, family photos, or cherished heirlooms, for example. You should also make an effort to spend extra time with your loved one to reduce feelings of isolation.
Sundowning can be a frustrating symptom during your loved one’s dementia journey. Working with a senior living community is a great way to make sure your loved one has a routine, comfortable surroundings, and the support they need to navigate this time of life.
If you’re looking for a relaxing senior living community, contact the Crossings at Riverview. Our welcoming community provides peace of mind for families and their loved ones by offering assisted living, respite care, and memory care services. Tour our community, meet our friendly staff, and see our amenities first-hand. Our goal is to make our community feel like home for all of our residents. To schedule a tour, contact us online. We look forward to meeting you!