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If you have an elderly relative with dementia, you are fully aware that your loved one has bad days and better days. However, you may not know that symptoms of dementia can be affected by the time of day. 

This phenomenon is called sundown syndrome, and sundowning signs are relatively common among those who have Alzheimer’s disease. This article will discuss what causes sundowning and how you can help your loved one manage it.

What Is the Cause of Sundowning?

In common with dementia, sundowning is not fully understood. Some researchers believe that it results from Alzheimer’s interfering with the body’s circadian rhythms, but no one knows for sure. However, it is known that several triggers seem to set off sundowning signs, including:

  • Fading natural light during the course of a day.
  • Pain, depression, boredom, preexisting sleep problems.
  • Hunger, thirst, fatigue.  

What Are the Symptoms of Sundowning?

Sundowning is just one of several potential symptoms associated with dementia, and approximately 20% of people with Alzheimer’s will experience it. It typically appears on the scene during the middle or later stages of dementia. Sundowning signs include:

  • Restlessness, irritability, agitation.
  • Disorientation, confusion, suspiciousness.
  • Making demands, shouting, pacing.
  • Visual hallucinations, mood swings.  

You are probably thinking that these symptoms are more or less identical to typical signs of dementia. However, if these characteristics tend to worsen toward the end of the day, there’s a good chance your loved one is sundowning.

What Is the Treatment for Sundowning?

It’s usually not possible to completely halt sundowning, but steps can be taken to help manage it. Here are some suggestions.

  • Help your loved one to develop consistent daily routines. Such routines can help cut down on stressful feelings that can contribute to sundowning. 
  • Place full-spectrum fluorescent lights or LED lighting in the areas of your home where your loved one spends most of their time. You can also run the lights on a timer, so they will turn on automatically when the natural light starts to dim.
  • Because sundowning can lead to loss of sleep and fatigue that, in turn, can contribute to future sundowning, try to avoid an unhealthy cycle of habits. Encourage your loved one to keep active during the daylight hours to enable them to fall asleep at bedtime more easily. And persuade them to give up caffeinated beverages except in the early morning.
  • If all else fails, consider seeking medical advice. You may find out that the side effects of a medication are contributing to the problem, or that a change in prescriptions can make a difference.  

Taking Care of Someone With Sundown Syndrome

Sundowning signs can put a lot of stress on caregivers. If you become tired or agitated, you are giving off non-verbal hints of anxiety and distress. Your loved one with dementia may internalize these cues and become confused and anxious themselves. This, in turn, may trigger symptoms of sundowning. 

In short, you’re much better equipped to take care of someone else when you’re rested and calm. If you reside in our area, Caring Healthcare can take some of the care burden off your shoulders and help you with someone who is sundowning. Talk to us to see how we can assist you.