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What Is Sundowning in Dementia?

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A senior woman with glasses sitting on a couch appears to be sad and looking outside the window.

Dementia is a progressive condition that impairs communication and reasoning abilities. Caring for a loved one with dementia requires experience in calming them and finding strategies to adapt their way of living.

Sundowning is an extension of dementia symptoms that can worsen as the sun goes down and throughout the night. It’s often characterized by increased confusion, trouble sleeping, anxiety, and hallucinations.

The team at Arcadia at Limerick Pointe is experienced with caring for those experiencing memory loss and other dementia-related symptoms, providing compassionate care. 

What Is Sundowning?

Sundown syndrome, commonly known as sundowning, isn’t a separate disease or condition from dementia but rather a group of dementia-related behaviors, thoughts, and feelings that someone with dementia can experience as the sun sets—nearly 20% of people with Alzheimer’s disease experience sundowning at some point.

Sundowning can affect someone in many ways, including greater memory issues and trouble thinking to becoming confused easier and fluctuations in mood.

Factors Affecting Sundowning

The risk factors of sundowning are not well understood. One theory is that a person’s “biological clock” is affected by how dementia changes the brain, resulting in changes in sleep-wake cycles, which can increase confusion and agitation.

Other potential triggers for sundowning include:

  • Too much activity in a day, which can lead to mental or physical exhaustion
  • New environment or stimuli in the environment
  • The low lighting from the sun going down could cause shadows, leading to hallucinations
  • “Picking up on” other people’s stress around them
  • Waking up confused or disoriented from a dream during the night

Can You Prevent Sundowning?

There are a few ways you can encourage a healthy sleep routine for your loved one, preventing or reducing the effects of sundowning:

  • Encourage them to get adequate rest while balancing the reality that many older adults don’t need as much sleep as younger adults.
  • Try to complete appointments, trips, or other activities in the morning or early afternoon while they’re still alert to avoid confusion.
  • Encourage routines, like waking up, eating meals, and going to bed at the same time every day.
  • Spend as much time outside during the day in the sunlight to help regulate their internal clock.
  • Identify triggers by keeping a journal of things that happen before sundowning occurs.
  • Reduce stimulation by avoiding TV or loud music in the evening. Instead, have your loved one do calm activities like reading or doing a puzzle.

It’s important to consult your loved one’s physician if nothing seems to help with preventing or minimizing sundowning.

An senior woman with grey hair sleeping alone on a bed and unable to sleep.

Signs of Sundowning

When seniors with dementia experience sundowning, they may struggle to express their feelings or thoughts clearly. If they can still speak, it might overwhelm them, causing agitation or aggression. Caregivers need to be patient, understanding, and observant during such times, using non-verbal communication and reassurance to comfort and support them.

Possible signs of sundowning include:

  • Pacing or rocking back and forth
  • Wandering
  • Violence or aggression
  • Following their caregiver closely wherever they go
  • Crying
  • Yelling
  • Inability to sleep

Possible emotions or mental states the senior may exhibit:

  • Sadness
  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Agitation or irritability
  • Confusion
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations or delusions

Find Compassionate Care in Limerick

Alzheimer’s or dementia can make life complicated. Dementia can progress to the point where 24/7 care is needed. Memory care communities are designed to provide a good quality of life to those experiencing cognitive decline. The staff is specially trained to deal with the needs of someone with dementia.

Call us today at Arcadia at Limerick Pointe if you or a loved one is considering retirement in Limerick. Our compassionate team is happy to answer your questions and book you a community tour.

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