Sundowning, a secret danger of Dementia

It catches you by surprise. Your dad just grabbed your arm and yelled in your face. This isn’t him – he is kind, soft-spoken, and gentle – but it has been happening more and more ever since he was diagnosed with dementia.

This change in behavior may be due to something known as Sundowning, which according to the Mayo Clinic is a “state of confusion occurring in the late afternoon and spanning into the night. Sundowning can cause a variety of behaviors, such as confusion, anxiety, aggression or ignoring directions.”

Though the cause of the syndrome is still unknown (though some suspect it has something to do with how dementia affects the body’s internal clock), experts do have tips to help mitigate its effects.

Keep in mind, to better manage the effects of Sundowning you will need to be mindful of factors like time and light, sounds, familiarity, and simulants.

  • Time: Try creating and maintaining a predictable routine for sleeping and eating.
  • Light: It’s recommended that you limit day-time naps, so they sleep more at night. And when they do sleep at night, you can keep a nightlight nearby as well to help their surroundings look less familiar and scary if they wake up at night.
  • Sound: You should remove TV and other background noises – replace them with soft or gentle music or sounds.
  • Familiarity: At times, you can reduce feelings of confusion and anxiety by having them look at photographs and other personal and sentimental items. Those pleasant feelings and memories can be a potent antidote to moments of confusion and agitation.
  • Stimulants: Be careful about what they eat and when they eat it. For example, you should cut down on their sugar and caffeine consumption.

Sundowning shouldn’t be ignored.

Doing so can and likely will endanger your loved ones. Wandering lost is a common consequence of Sundown syndrome.

Finally, in addition to managing time, light, sounds, familiarity, and stimulants, it is important to make sure you or someone reliable and dependable is with them during those afternoon-to-evening transition times when the effects of Sundowning can be at its worst.

And if you, your family, or friends cannot be there with them during those times, you can always arrange for an experienced home care professional to help you.   

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