What Caregivers Can Do to Manage Sundowner's When Caring for a Loved One with Alzheimer's

  • January 29, 2019

During the winter, the hours of daylight are fewer. While many of us find less daylight depressing, it can be particularly challenging for seniors with Alzheimer’s disease. Fall and winter are seasons when family caregivers may see an increase in a condition known as Sundowner’s Syndrome. 

Sundowning, as it is often called, occurs among people with Alzheimer’s disease as the sun goes down. It consists of behavioral symptoms including agitation, disorientation, and wandering. For family caregivers, managing these difficult symptoms can be challenging.

What is Sundowner’s Syndrome?

Sundowner’s Syndrome refers to the agitation, confusion, pacing, and general restlessness that people with Alzheimer’s disease may experience in the late afternoons and evenings. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 20% of people with Alzheimer’s experience symptoms of sundowning.

Common symptoms associated with sundowning include:

  • Pacing and wandering
  • Sleep problems and restlessness
  • Agitation and anger
  • Paranoia and hallucinations
  • Disorientation and confusion

Possible Triggers of Sundowning

The exact cause of Sundowner’s Syndrome is unknown but researchers have identified a few common triggers:

  • Sleep problems that disrupt the body’s internal clock
  • Lack of exposure to sunlight needed to regulate a body’s natural rhythms
  • Fatigue caused by too much late-day exertion

Making a few adjustments to your senior loved one’s daily routine might help to minimize episodes of Sundowner’s Syndrome this winter. 

5 Ways to Lower the Risk of Sundowning

  1. Stick to a consistent routine: A consistent schedule can give a person with memory problems a feeling of security. Having standard times for waking up, eating meals, taking a shower, and exercising can help make the days go more smoothly.
  2. Minimize late-day activities: Arrange your schedule so that physical activity, appointments, and errands occur early in the day. This helps a senior to avoid becoming overly tired and agitated.
  3. Serve a well-balanced diet: Dietary choices may play a role in managing Sundowner’s Syndrome. A healthy diet promotes better sleep, which can help lower the risk for sundowning. Also, limit how much sugar and caffeine your aging family member consumes. 
  4. Create a peaceful environment: As the afternoon comes to a close, try to quiet your loved one’s environment. Turn off the television and turn on soft, soothing music. When possible, encourage visitors to stop by early in the day rather than the afternoon.
  5. Talk to a physician: What might look like sundowning symptoms could actually be untreated pain or an adverse reaction to a medication. If you’ve tried the steps above without success, consult with your loved one’s physician. 

Finally, know that agitation and wandering are tough behaviors for families to manage at home. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you are struggling to cope. 

Memory Care at Five Star Senior Living

If you are contemplating a move to a memory care community, we encourage you to consider Five Star. Watch this video to learn more about our Bridge to Rediscovery program from a daughter’s perspective. 

 


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