Community Blog

What Is Sundowning?

By Patti Soisson

For most people, dusk signals a time to unwind as the day comes to a close. For a senior who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia, the onset of evening can create a level of confusion and agitation that is distressing to a caregiver or family member as well as the individual. This difficulty with changing time is called sundowning, and while it generally is associated with cognitive disorders, it can affect seniors and lead to a decline in quality of life. In order to promote senior care and well being, you should understand the symptoms of sundowning, how it can impact a senior, and what a caregiver can do to lessen the effects.


When Night Falls

 Sundowning can be diagnosed if a senior displays a number of the following symptoms:


  • Mood swings
  • Agitation or distress
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Confusion
  • Pacing or wandering


If you or a caregiver notice these behavior changes that may occur in relation to the time of day, you should report this to your supervisor.


Impact on Seniors

 Elderly people who are experiencing a sundowning pattern may have a more pronounced disorientation that can be due to a change in their sleep habits. They may be tired during the day or hungry outside of mealtimes. They can also be confused by fading light or shadows. A caregiver may notice an increase in panic or anxiety. Senior care can address the symptoms of sundowning to limit some of these symptoms in older people who are confused.


How to Help

 Luckily, you or a caregiver can make simple modifications to reduce the effect of sundowning. You can:


  • Stick to a daily routine for consistency
  • Incorporate physical activity to reduce stress and help with sleeping
  • Eat a larger meal in the middle of the day, and have a lighter meal in the evening
  • Limit alcohol, smoking, coffee, or other things that may act as a stimulant
  • Open blinds or curtains to allow light in during the day and close them and turn on lights after dusk
  • Keep activity light to allow for relaxation and calmness in the evening before bedtime


You or a caregiver or family member may want to keep a journal to track any signs of sundowning or to see if there is a pattern in anxiety and agitation in a senior with dementia. Home Helpers employs individuals that are trained and experienced in sundowning or any other condition that may be impacting well being and overall health.