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What is Sundowning in Dementia?

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Older man sitting behind letter blocks arranged to spell out dementia.

Dementia affects many aspects of your loved one’s daily life. They may struggle and need more support as this disease progresses. You may even notice your loved one seems agitated, confused, or restless towards the end of the day. 

Sundowning is a common symptom as dementia progresses in older adults. It can affect your loved one in many ways, including their thoughts, feelings, and behavior. 

What Is Sundowning When Someone Has Dementia? 

When someone has dementia, it can lead to several changes, especially as this disease progresses. Dementia worsens with time, causing your loved one to struggle with memory, thinking, and emotions. If your loved one is in the advanced stages of dementia, they may experience sundowning. 

Sundowning is a symptom of later-stage dementia. It’s a group of problems someone can experience as the sun begins to set, affecting behavior, feeling, and thought. 

Sundowning affects approximately 20% of people with Alzheimer’s disease, impacting: 

  • Memory
  • Personality
  • Behavior
  • Mood
  • Thinking

Many people experience sundowning in the later stages of dementia in the late afternoon or night. Symptoms typically last as long as the sundowning trigger affects your loved one. 

Sundowning Symptoms

It can be difficult to know if the symptoms your loved one experiences are due to sundowning or their overall condition. Keep an eye on what time of day these symptoms occur, and you can determine what’s causing your loved one’s irritation. 

There are many symptoms related to sundowning, including: 

  • Pacing or rocking back and forth
  • Wandering
  • Yelling
  • Crying
  • Struggling to sleep
  • Following caretakers throughout the day

Depending on the person, sundowning can bring up many different emotions. Depression, anxiety, fear, irritation, restlessness, and anger are all common responses. Someone who is sundowning may be confused, paranoid, or experiencing delusions. 

What Causes Sundowning? 

The exact cause of sundowning is unknown, but experts know it occurs due to dementia. The changes to the brain caused by dementia can lead to sundowning symptoms. Sundowning commonly begins when your loved one enters the middle and later stages of dementia and their confusion increases. 

The severity of sundowning symptoms can vary from person to person. While sundowning isn’t a condition, several factors can lead to this problem, including: 

  • Disturbances in the body’s internal clock
  • Poor lighting 
  • The behavior of others nearby
  • Confusion between what is real and what is a dream
  • Lack of sleep
  • Mental and physical exhaustion 
A senior man looking at a wall calendar and touching the date with a concerned expression on his face.

Can Anything Worsen Sundowning Symptoms? 

Typically, poor sleep can worsen sundowning symptoms. Sleep is essential for everyone, helping keep your loved one healthy. A sleep disorder or interrupted sleep cycle can affect your loved one’s quality of life. 

Besides sleep, experts have theories of what can worsen sundowning symptoms. These problems include: 

  • Infections
  • Side effects of medications
  • Discomfort
  • Fatigue
  • Overstimulation
  • Dehydration
  • Poor lighting 

Can You Treat or Prevent Sundowning?

Because sundowning isn’t a medical condition, you can necessarily treat it. You may not be able to prevent this confusion from happening, but you can help calm your loved one. 

Addressing the trigger of sundowning is the best way to stop symptoms. You can improve lighting, help your loved one rest, or keep your loved one relaxed around others.  

Other ways to address sundowning are with nonmedical treatments and medications, including: 

  • Environmental changes
  • Light and music therapy
  • Anti Anxiety medication
  • Antidepressants
  • Melatonin to improve sleep

How Can You Help Manage Your Loved One’s Sleep Problems? 

Sundowning isn’t entirely preventable, but you can reduce its impact on your loved one’s daily life. Some changes to your loved one’s daily routine and close monitoring can help identify when sundowning happens and improve their quality of life. 

There are several ways to help your loved one improve their sleep and limit sundowning symptoms: 

  • Help them establish a consistent routine
  • Schedule regular doctor’s appointments and essential activities early in the day
  • Get them enough sleep
  • Keep your home bright during the evening to reduce confusion
  • Monitor their behavior when sundowning occurs
  • Spend time with them outside in the sun
  • Prevent unnecessary distractions later in the day
  • Find ways to soothe them (music, watching a movie, etc.)
  • Limit naps during the day if sleeping is a problem 

Consider professional help if these changes to your loved one’s daily routine cannot reduce sundowning symptoms. Visit your doctor, and they can recommend if your loved one needs extra support. Senior living communities can help manage sundowning and other dementia symptoms your loved one experiences. 

Support Your Loved One as Best as Possible 

Dementia can affect more than your loved one’s memory as it progresses. They may struggle to live independently with time, and you may not be able to support your loved one’s needs. They may benefit from senior living when they need consistent care. 

These communities provide personalized care for your loved one, meeting their unique needs. With several essential services offered, residents can enjoy daily life knowing they have the support they need whenever they need it. 

Contact Bentley Commons at Bedford if you’re interested in innovative care for your loved one. 

Written by bentley

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