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Coping with Sundowner Syndrome

It’s 7 pm, twilight of a busy day. All you want to do is sit down to a relaxing meal with your family, or maybe watch a little television. Unfortunately, an older loved one in the household, one who is experiencing their own sort of “twilight,” is suddenly confused, agitated and seemingly disoriented.

Your loved one, more than likely (perhaps a parent already diagnosed with dementia), is exhibiting symptoms of something called sundown syndrome. Also known as sundowners syndrome or sundowning, this disorder is not a disease, but instead actually a variety of symptoms seen in individuals with dementia. These symptoms usually occur in late afternoon and early evening with the setting sun.

The possible causes of this syndrome aren’t fully known. But experience shows there are tips that can make life easier for both caregivers and the individuals suffering with dementia:

  • Staying active— keep stimulating exercising and activities to the earlier hours of the day

  • Avoid late naps —if naps are necessary, similarly try to keep them earlier in the day, at least four hours before bedtime. Cutting back on caffeine and sugar may also help.

  • Avoid arguing with the individual if possible—This is the dementia individual’s reality and disagreeing will only make matters worse

  • Quiet is best —Reducing noises from people, televisions and other devices can help keep the evening calm

  • Keep to a routine —Avoiding surprises in terms of late meals or unusual activities may help cause less fear or confusion

Is it sundowners or something else?

A doctor’s diagnosis should conclusively provide you with some answers. But the following symptoms could be clues that sundowning is occurring:

  • Hallucinations

  • Pacing back and forth or wandering

  • Paranoia

  • Restlessness

  • An increase in agitation/yelling

  • Disorientation/confusion

Caregivers Need Help

Trying to avoid “triggers,” things like being overtired, hungry, thirsty or even just bored, helps. But rarely is normal life the perfect world that allows for such avoidance. Caregivers need breaks and must get sleep as well. If you have a loved one at home with dementia who exhibits symptoms of sundowning, hiring someone from a home health caregiver as a backup may be an answer. Temporary, part-time, full-time and even live-in help can be arranged.

Interesting in learning more? Resources for sundowner syndrome include:

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