Tips on Sundown Syndrome

It can be difficult when your loved one insists on “going home”, or wants to go to work, or pick up children from school.  You know that he or she is confusing past activities with present realities.  Yet he seniors leaving homeor she is insistent.  The more you argue trying to correct the behavior, or explain reality to him or her the more your loved one is going to emphatically insist that the activity is what she or he is going to do.  Tempers and aggravation rise.  What we need is a better understanding of “Sundowning”

“Sundowning” is a symptom of Alzheimer’s disease as well as other forms of dementia.  Confusion and agitation worsen in the late afternoon and evening, or as the sun goes down.  Sleep often becomes difficult for them at night.  Fading light seems to be the trigger.  The symptoms can get worse as the night goes on and usually get better by morning.  “Sundowning” most often affects people who have mid-stage and advanced dementia.

What is needed is a better way to react during “Sundowning” so that tempers and aggravation do not rise.  Here are a few tips:

When your loved one “wants to go home”, or “go to work”, don’t try to correct his or her thinking.  It will not work.  Instead, be in his or her world and come up with a reason that he or she must wait a half hour.  Do another activity such as having a snack or playing a game.  By then, your loved one has forgotten about his or her original desire.

If you sense your loved one is getting frustrated, hold his or her hand or put your hand on his or her back or knee.  Sometimes a soothing hand or shoulder massage can be comforting and can lesson any tension that may be building.  Also, maintain a comfortable temperature in the house, making sure your loved one is not too hot or too cold.

Encourage a little healthy (not exhausting) exercise during the day to get your loved one’s endorphins going and blood flowing.  This will promote a more relaxing and low-key nightfall.  In the evening, you may turn lights on in the rooms that you and your loved ones will be occupying. Promote other evening activities of positive interactions and memories, whether it’s watching uplifting movies, listening to soothing music, looking through family albums or calling loved ones. If it works, and is satisfying to your loved one, it’s a good activity.

The key to this time of night is helping your loved one focus on things outside their own thought process, so they do not get upset.  If you make this time of day easier on them it will be easier on you as well.  Having the right balance of tasks, planning and comfort can help to reduce “Sundowning”.