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Sundowning and How to Navigate Through It

It’s not unusual for people to find certain parts of the day more challenging than others. For instance, many people do not consider themselves to be a “morning person” and struggle to get out of bed and start their routine.

Seniors with dementia or specifically Alzheimer’s disease, also tend to struggle with certain hours of the day. Many caregivers find that their loved one’s condition worsens during later afternoons or early evenings. This is a common symptom of dementia often referred to as “Sundowning”.

What Is Sundowning?

Many caretakers note that confusion, irritation, and restlessness worsen for individuals with dementia around the late afternoon and early evening hours. This agitation might increase throughout the evening, so they struggle to fall asleep or stay in bed.

Doctors aren’t sure why seniors with the disease Sundown. Some theorize that a full day spent navigating an environment made unfamiliar or uncomfortable by cognitive impairment can make a person living with dementia feel fatigued in the early evening, increasing dementia symptoms.  Fatigue might also aggravate their forgetfulness, which can compound this condition.

Also, after a full day of tending to their loved ones, caregivers might begin to feel weary in the afternoon themselves. Unfortunately, this is also when their children and spouse arrive home from school and work. As such, they’re now dealing with even more demands on their time and attention.

Amidst this bustle, caregivers may inadvertently divert their attention from their senior loved one because it’s so busy. They might then get hungry or thirsty, bored, or depressed as a result. With these needs getting overlooked, they then get more restless and irritated.

How to Manage Sundowning for Your Loved One

1.    Create calm

Older adults with cognitive impairment often get agitated in busy and noisy environments. Caregivers should ensure a calmer environment in the late afternoons and early evenings. You might take a few minutes to remove unnecessary items from their space. Also, keep children and pets in another part of the home. The senior must be prepared to have a good night’s sleep.

2.    Attend to their physical needs

Hunger, thirst, and fatigue often add to a senior’s restlessness. Being proactive to to curb these needs can reduce sundowning symptoms. For example, offer snacks in the late afternoon and encourage them to nap. Keep prepared snacks on hand to make it easier to keep them fed. Receiving proper sunlight throughout the day can also improve their physical and mental health.

3.    Distract them if possible

Since boredom might aggravate sundowning, try to distract your loved one during this time. They can manage simple chores like folding towels or sweeping. You might even put on their favorite TV show or movie.

4.    Ensure sufficient lighting

Individuals with dementia often suffer from hallucinations, increasing their fear and agitation. Shadows in poorly lighted rooms often make this condition worse. Additionally, darker rooms can increase a senior’s fatigue, increasing irritability.

To reduce these issues, turn on some lights during the late afternoon and evening. Keep blinds and curtains open as long as possible. In addition, you could invest in lightbulbs that mimic sunlight or warm light, like an Edison bulb, to keep rooms bright and cheery.

5.    Care for yourself as well

Above all, caregivers should remember to take care of themselves as well. Take a nap, and help yourself to a snack! Never hesitate to ask for help with caring for the senior. This will help you stay rested and refreshed for those times when caregiving is its most challenging.

Don’t hesitate to talk to your healthcare provider for added suggestions. Quite often, certain health conditions, such as a urinary tract infection or sleep apnea, can worsen sundowning symptoms.

For additional resources, contact our team at Oasis Senior Advisors by calling 475.619.4123 or  914.356.1901 or fill out an inquiry form on our website.

Oasis Senior Advisors


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Paul and Susan Doyle

Certified Senior Advisor®

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