What does sundowning mean?
Alzheimer’s Disease has a component that might be familiar for caretakers and their loved ones—it’s called sundowning, and it’s the increased level of confusion that tends to happen in the later part of the day. If you’re caring for someone with dementia of Alzheimer’s, you may notice that they become more agitated as the evening wears on, and confusion increases. It happens more often as the disease advances, but there are things you can do to lessen the effects. Here are some tips….
Try to keep to a structured schedule
One of the difficulties with dementia is adapting to new schedules or breaks in the normal routine. There may be agitation and even anger displayed if your loved one is exposed to changes, and this can all lead to symptoms of sundowning.
By sticking to a schedule, you can avoid the anxiety that comes with sudden changes. If you do need to change a routine, do it gradually in order to avoid confusion.
Light up their life
Circadian rhythms—or the natural cycle of sleeping and waking—are super important for your loved one to have as few symptoms of sundowning as possible. One of the best ways to improve these rhythms is with light therapy earlier in the day. By placing a full-spectrum fluorescent light a few feet away from them for a couple of hours in the morning hours, research has shown a drastic reduction in the symptoms of sundowning. You can also bring more light into the home during times of confusion or agitation to help them become calmer faster.
Help them stay active
Patients who deal with the symptoms of sundowning often have difficulty falling or staying asleep. This causes them to be tired, which increases their anxiety, which can all trigger sundowning. It’s a cycle you want to void if at all possible.
To do this, keep your senior loved one from napping too much during the day, and try not to let too much time go by with no activity or movement. Exercise helps tremendously, even if it’s a quick walk around the house or around the block. Perhaps they loved to dance in earlier years—move some things and create space to listen to music and dance! It may trigger good memories and fun times, all of which drastically reduces anxiety. Staying active will also do wonders for nighttime sleeping habits.
You might not think of this tip right off the bat, but not consuming large meals can really help with sundowning. Too much food in the stomach late in the day can cause agitation, pain and bloating, and prevent good sleep. Keep meals light and avoid alcohol if possible. If they enjoy eating larger meals, try limiting it to lunch rather than dinner.
Minimize their stress
Keep the activities in the evening calm and relaxing. Simple things like enjoying a pet, reading a book, or watching a favorite television show can be comforting and cut down on stress. Staying calm and avoiding things that may be frustrating or frightening will go a long way in preventing sundowning!
Track their behavior
There are many different things that trigger the symptoms of sundowning and each person is different. Tracking these patterns will help you to better manage them and reduce confusion. There are many wonderful apps for smartphones that can help with this, or you can just use a notebook to record the things you notice increase agitation. It might be environmental or certain activities that bring it on. By tracking it, you can help reduce or even avoid those triggers.
Take care of yourself!
Sundowning syndrome can be tough to deal with, both for the patient and the caregiver. By taking care of yourself, you will be able to keep your own stress level down and help manage your loved one in a way that is calm and de-stressing. You deserve to have peace too! Stay rested, eat well, exercise, and be sure you have some outlets for social activities of your own. Ask friends or family to relieve you from time to time so you can get some mental rest, as well as physical.
For more information on managing the symptoms of sundowning, please contact us today!
Home Helpers of MetroWest is a locally-owned, trusted home health care agency and offers quality, compassionate senior in-home care services including home care assistance, 24-hour live-in care, personal care, companion care, respite care, Alzheimer's & dementia care, Parkinson's care as well as homemaker services in Concord, Framingham, Lincoln, Marlborough, Natick, Southborough, Sudbury, Wayland, Wellesley, and Weston, Massachusetts.