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For some people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, the most challenging time of day can be the late afternoon through the early evening. They may show signs of something called sundowning – agitation, confusion, irritability, restlessness. These symptoms often begin to get worse as daylight starts to fade (and the sun goes down!). This scenario can be very hard on a tired caregiver looking forward to a relaxing evening.

How Long Does Sundowning Last?

Sundowning can continue well into the night, making it hard for the Alzheimer’s sufferer to stay in bed and fall asleep. Tiredness makes it harder both for them and their caregiver to function well the next day.

What Causes Sundowning?

The causes of sundowning have not been pinned down. It’s possible that Alzheimer’s-related brain changes affect an individual’s biological clock, resulting in confused sleep-wake cycles. Other possible reasons for sundowning include:

  • Being overly tired.
  • Needs that have been insufficiently met, e.g., hunger or thirst.
  • Depression.
  • Pain.
  • Boredom.

How to Cope With Sundowning

If the person with Alzheimer’s starts to become agitated, take the time to listen calmly to their frustrations and concerns. Do your best to distract them from upsetting and stressful events and keep reassuring them that everything is fine. Here are some other tips:

  • Avoid a crowded room and limit noise and clutter.
  • Turn the early evening into a quiet time of day. You might read or go for a short walk together or play soothing music.
  • Offer a distraction by way of a favorite activity, object, or snack. For example, suggest a simple, calming task like folding laundry, offer a favorite drink (decaffeinated and non-alcoholic) or tune in to a familiar TV show (but avoid the news or a horror film!).
  • While it’s still light, have the person go outside or at least sit by a window. Exposure to bright natural light can aid in resetting the body clock.
  • Close the blinds or drapes at dusk and turn on lights to minimize confusing shadows.
  • Make sure the person is physically active for part of each day. However, don’t tire the person out by planning too many daily activities.
  • Keep daytime naps short and not too late in the day.
  • Try to ensure the person gets enough rest at night.

What to Do If Sundowning Persists

If you’ve tried everything and the problem continues, seek medical advice. A medical exam may identify the cause of sundowning, e.g., illness, pain, a sleeping disorder, a medication side effect.

If medication is prescribed to help with relaxation and sleep, be sure to ask about possible side effects. Unfortunately, some medications can increase the chances of confusion, dizziness, and falls. Most doctors will recommend using such meds only for short periods of time.

Get More Information About Alzheimer’s

The following organizations provide information about all aspects of Alzheimer’s:

If You Can’t Cope and Live in or Near Columbia, SC

If you are caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s and you are overwhelmed because of sundowning, help is at hand. Caring Healthcare provides in-home services at any time of day for those who have Alzheimer’s. So, let us take some of the burden off your shoulders and give you some respite. Contact us today for more information.