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Sundowner's syndrome

Sundowner’s syndrome is a condition in which people who suffer from dementia (Alzheimer’s or some other form) become increasingly confused, agitated, or anxious as the sun goes down.  While the actual causes are unknown, it seems to have something to do with a combination of exhaustion and the person’s circadian rhythm (our internal clock that tells us when to be awake and when to sleep that is affected by levels of sunlight).  This condition can make for difficult evenings for both caregivers and receivers.

Symptoms of Sundowning include:

  • Anger and stubbornness
  • Fear, anxiety, or paranoia
  • Agitation and outbursts (sometimes violent)
  • Depression and/or crying
  • Restlessness
  • Pacing or wandering
  • Hiding things
  • Rocking
  • Confusion, delirium, or hallucinations
  • “Shadowing”- following someone and imitating all of their behaviors

If you are caring for someone with Sundowner’s, there are some things that you can do to help alleviate these symptoms, making evenings more pleasant for both you and the one you are caring for.

  1. Establish an evening routine (one that mimics the routine that person had in the past if possible). Routines can provide comfort during these difficult hours for both you and your care receiver.  Try to make sure the routines are not too busy or active, however; too much activity could make it worse.
  2. Keep the environment well-lit. Lack of light seems to be a contributing factor in Sundowner’s.  And bright lights or light therapy (using a box that produces light that mimics sunlight), has in some cases helped to alleviate Sundowning.
  3. Play soothing music that the person likes. Music has a calming effect on everyone, including those suffering from Sundowner’s.
  4. Have a safe, quiet place where the person can go to get away from the flurry of the evening activities.
  5. Encourage some physical activity during the day. Activity releases endorphins, which have a naturally calming effect on the body.  It will also make the person more able to get to sleep at an earlier time than someone who has been inactive.
  6. Avoid letting the person take long naps. Limit napping to one or two short catnaps (no more than about 20 minutes) during the day.
  7. Restrict caffeine and sugar intake to early parts of the day.

These tips can help to make evenings more calm and pleasant for both the caregiver(s) and those receiving care.  For more information about Sundowner’s syndrome, or to ask about our availability, contact Unlimited Care Cottages today!

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