When you care for a person with dementia, it doesn’t take long before you hear someone whisper the expression, “he’s sundowning.” What does this mean for a person with dementia and their caregivers?
What is Sundowning?
Sundowning is a syndrome and a label given to a group of symptoms commonly experienced by people with dementia in late afternoon or evening. The symptoms can vary but typically include worsened confusion, anxiety, and aggression as well as pacing or wandering.
Why Does Sundowning Happen?
Researchers don’t know exactly what causes sundowning behavior, but they have a few theories. Sundowning is believed to be related to an older adult’s level of fatigue. As the day wears on, a person with dementia gets tired, just as a person without dementia does. However, there’s one key difference. The person with the healthy brain often gets a second wind that makes it possible to finish the day. For a person with dementia, this surge of energy doesn’t come. Their brain is less able to deal with the stress of the day. By late afternoon, the person may start to act out through their behaviors. Another theory is that dementia causes changes in the circadian cycle that can disrupt the person’s sleep/wake patterns.
Tips for Dealing with Sundowning Behavior
If the person you are caring for is exhibiting late-day confusion, what can you do? It may take some trial and error, but the first step is to understand that it is possible to help minimize the symptoms. Try these tips:
- Observe the behaviors and record them in a journal. Look for patterns and possible triggers.
- Next, try removing the triggers. For example, the television can sometimes be problematic if the person thinks the scene is happening in real life. If something scary or stressful is happening on screen, the person may become anxious or afraid. Try turning off the television and playing some music instead.
- Stick to a routine for waking up, bedtimes, meals, exercise, and activities throughout the day. Most people benefit from a schedule, including a person with dementia.
- Exposure to sunlight earlier in the day can help. Get outside for a walk and fresh air.
- Create a soothing environment. Soft music, a cup of tea, and a foot or hand massage are great places to start. If you have a rocking chair, encourage your loved one to use it. The rocking motion can be calming for a person who likes to walk a lot.
- Reminisce with the person by looking at photos or giving them special objects to hold in their hands and talk about.
- Give the person meaningful activities to occupy them. Ask for their help peeling potatoes, setting the table, or tidying up from the day’s activities.
If someone you’re caring for is showing symptoms of sundowning, it’s important to build this into your own self-care routine. Consider having a friend, family member, or professional caregiver help you for a few hours in the evening to prepare for bedtime. This will give you the extra support you need at the end of the day, and it may also help the person with dementia. He or she may respond well to a new face who presents a calm, friendly, and soothing presence.
Caring for a loved one with dementia can be difficult but working with a Life Care Planning Law Firm can make the journey easier. Find a Life Care Planning Law Firm near you.