What Is Sundowning Exactly?

What Is Sundowning Exactly_

If your senior loved one has been diagnosed with dementia, you may notice that they experience certain increases in strange or erratic behaviors when the sun starts to set, including trouble sleeping that can last well into the night. This phenomenon is called sundowning, and it can be a confusing time for both you as a caregiver and your loved one. In this article, our Tapestries memory care team in NJ we’ll discuss symptoms, causes, and how you can help prevent sundowning. 

Sundowning in Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease

The Alzheimer’s Association defines sundowning as “increased confusion that people living with Alzheimer’s and dementia may experience from dusk through the night.” It’s not a disease or a condition itself, rather it’s a set of behaviors that can sometimes accompany dementia diagnoses. 

Sundowning can be very frustrating for both the person with dementia and their caregiver, however it is possible to manage it in order to reduce the impact. 

Common Symptoms of Sundowning

  • Agitation: Dementia often makes people feel agitated, and feelings of agitation can increase when the sun begins to set. 
  • Restlessness: Your loved one may be more restless than usual at dusk.
  • Irritability: If you’ve noticed your loved one acting irritable around sundown, this may be why.
  • Confusion: People with dementia typically become confused at certain points throughout the day, however it can increase when someone is sundowning.
  • Disorientation: A person who is sundowning might appear more disoriented than usual in the evening.

What Causes Sundowning?

While there is no exact known cause, doctors believe that certain factors can contribute to sundowning, including:

  • Being overstimulated by their environment. If your loved one is in an environment where there is a lot of noise, movement, and general overstimulation, this may contribute to the likelihood that they will experience sundowning.
  • Not having a consistent sleeping schedule. Dementia can disrupt a person’s sleep cycle.
  • Being fatigued at the end of the day after doing too many activities. Older adults with dementia generally don’t have the energy for a full day of activities like younger people often do.
  • Changing light when the sun begins to set. Things like shadows and less light in the room can cause your loved one to become confused and act out. 

How to Prevent Sundowning

Unfortunately there is no way to completely prevent sundowning from happening, but there are ways to manage your loved one’s day-to-day routine and their environment in order to reduce the likelihood that they will experience sundowning:

  • Create and maintain a calm environment. Overstimulation from too much noise and too much activity can have a negative effect on your loved one’s health. Turn off the loud TV when evening is approaching and play some calm, soothing music instead. Visitors should come over to visit your loved one in the late morning or early afternoon. 
  • Exercise regularly. As we get older, it’s essential that we keep up with some form of exercise, even if it’s going for a short walk every day. People with dementia can often feel anxious and agitated, and exercise is a great way to release those feelings. 
  • Maintain structure in your loved one’s day. We’re all creatures of habit and having a solid routine is beneficial for all of us, especially people with dementia. 

If you would like more information about sundowning and how to help your senior loved one cope with it, please contact our team at UMC today or visit our website: https://umcommunities.org

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