Sundowning is a term that refers to the tendency of Alzheimer’s symptoms to worsen in the late afternoon and evening hours. Affecting 1 in 5 people with Alzheimer’s, symptoms include agitation, anxiety, confusion, yelling, pacing, hallucinations, and mood swings. Common triggers for sundowning are fatigue, hunger, thirst, depression, pain, boredom, and sleep problems.
Doctors aren’t entirely sure what causes this phenomenon, but believe that a change in the brains of those with dementia causes their inner body clocks to break down, leading to confusion when the sunlight begins to fade. Though it may not be possible to completely eliminate every symptom, there are ways to reduce the effects.
Sticking to a schedule can help those with Alzheimer’s have predictability and order in their lives, reducing the amount of uncertainties that can trigger anxiety. If you need to make changes to the routine, do it very gradually and in small steps.
Since sundowning is likely a result of a disruption in circadian rhythm, adjusting the lighting may help. Illuminating a full-spectrum light for a couple of hours in the morning could set the patient’s body clock on track for the rest of the day.
Keeping your loved one active during the day helps them sleep better at night, reducing fatigue that can trigger sundowning. This could also lead to better physical health that reduces anxiety and depression.
Watch the video below for 4 more important tips to reduce sundowning!
TC currently lives in the soggy Pacific Northwest, bellied up to a sun lamp. In addition to writing, she enjoys photography and estate sales, and is the proud mother to an ever-growing collection of cacti.