If your elderly loved one seems to have a radical change in behavior in the evenings, they may be sundowning .
Sundowners syndrome is not an actual disease by itself, but is most often associated with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. As the name would suggest, sundowning occurs from late afternoon into the evening, and is defined as a range of behaviors including increased confusion, anxiety and aggression.
Signs & Symptoms
Those experiencing sundowners syndrome may exhibit:
- Anxiety or sadness
- Hallucinations or delusions
- Pacing or rocking
- Anger, aggression, violence or resistance
- Restlessness or bursts of energy
- Confusion and disorientation
- Screaming or crying with no discernible reason
An individual with sundowners syndrome may present with one of the above symptoms, but usually several of the signs are evident. Very often, this will only occur for a few hours in the evening and then recede. Experts are unsure as to why this may occur.There are several triggers which seem to make the symptoms of sundowners syndrome more prevalent. These include:
- Illness or infection
- Low lighting, a room with shadows
- Disruption of their schedule
- Vivid dreams they can’t separate from reality
Managing Sundowners Syndrome
While you may not be able to completely eradicate the behaviors of this condition, you can put some measures in place to help mitigate them.
- Establish a predictable daily schedule, including an alarm to wake up, a meal schedule, structured activities, and a set bedtime.
- Plan for adequate exposure to light during the day. This is easy in our beautiful South Florida weather. This helps to reeducate the body between day and night, and should encourage sleepiness once the sun goes down.
- Limit or eliminate daytime naps
- Only allow caffeine and sugar early in the day, if they are necessary at all. It is best to eliminate them from the patient’s diet if possible.
- Once the sun goes down, turn off the TV. This will help to minimize background noise and sounds which can result in unwanted sensory stimulation.
- If sleeping in an unfamiliar setting, bring personal pictures or favorite items such as a throw blanket or pillow to make things seem more familiar and comfortable.
- Play soothing music or nature sounds in the evenings to establish a serene environment.
Dementia Patients / Sundowners
- Reduce emotional stress by simplifying and minimizing. Remove clutter from their surroundings, avoid harsh colors, and block light from other areas if they are trying to sleep.
- If they become agitated , confused or angry, distract them with a favorite song, book, or even a service animal if possible. If you can get them to take a walk with you, do so.
- Make sure their room has adequate access to natural light. If it does not, encourage daily trips to a solarium, patio, or outside bench. This helps the body to distinguish between daytime and nighttime.
- A short massage, essential oils, or acupuncture have been shown to ease symptoms.
- Herbal supplements such as lemon balm, chamomile, kava, holy basil and valerian may help to soothe agitation and anxiety – as will melatonin. Be sure to discuss any alternative treatments with physician.
At A Banyan Residence, our assisted living and memory care centers are staffed with caring, compassionate and skilled professionals who are happy to help. If your loved one is exhibiting signs of dementia or sundowners syndrome and you are considering an adult residence, please give us a call to set up a tour of our Venice facilities.