Sundowning is a phenomenon or symptom that is usually experienced by patients suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia. This is not a disease but in fact a symptom where the patient suffers from a variety of behavior’s ranging from confusion, anxiety and even aggression, usually in the evening or at the end of the day.
Sundowning can be distressing to witness to the caregiver, especially if they happen to be family.
But there are some ways in which we can reduce the behavior of sundowning:
Maintain a schedule
- Stick to the schedule to which the patient is usually used to. Alzheimer’s and dementia often make it difficult for the patients suffering from it to accept new schedules.
- The common responses to a change in schedule or what the person is used to is anger, aggression and even confusion. So stick to familiar foods and what the person does at different times.
- For example if he is used to take an evening walk, make sure he gets down to doing it and do not change it to any other form of activity.
Turn on the lights
- Research has proved that lighting up the house or area where the patient is during the day and night can reduce the occurrence of sundown.
- Basically the person who is exposed to the maximum light during the day and night is less likely to show symptoms of sundown.
- This method of reducing projection of sundown is due to the light exposure that helps your bodies differentiate between the night and day.
- What happens in the case of most patients is that since they suffer from Dementia or Alzheimer’s they do not maintain an active lifestyle in the day and even take lot of naps in the day time, which affects their sleep schedule at night.
- As a matter of fact, day time napping can lead to more confusion and prevent them from settling down to sleep at night.
- So it is important to schedule an activity, which need not be too rigorous so that that patient is active during the day and reduce sundowning symptoms.
Create environment that reduces stress
- Stress increases the occurrence and intensity of sundowning. Keep the person engaged with simple activities that he can enjoy. So not complicate things and make the person agitated and stresses.
- Stress can lead to sundowning that can make a person confused and show signs of agitation and aggression. So play some music, play a board game, basically anything that keeps him stress free.
Limit heavy meals and caffeine to mornings
- Restrict heavy meals to the day time. Heavy meals, especially those that contain caffeine and alcohol can affect the eating and sleeping patterns that can trigger sundowning.
- So reduce the intake of heavy food and caffeine that can affect your sleep schedules and can keep you awake at night and trigger sundowning.
- It is very important to create a setting where the patient suffering from Alzheimer’s is familiar with and also comfortable. For these patients, comfort comes with familiarity.
- Dementia and Alzheimer’s in itself are scary so comfort is very important to reduce the suffering coping through this difficult phase in life.
- Often patients at old age homes suffering from the disease are found clutching their favorite or cherished objects such as blankets, stuffed animals or family pictures.
Make note of the triggers
- Different people have different triggers to sundowning. So keep your eyes wide open and keep a look out for the symptoms that trigger the worst behavior in your loved one.
- Maintaining a journal can help understand what triggers sundown and prevent it from such situations from arising.
- Taking care of a person who suffers from sundowning can prove to be stressful and exhausting physically as well as mentally for the caregiver.
- Form a support group so that the caregiver can take a break or time out and enjoy their personal space or ‘me time’.
Helping your loved ones deal with sundowning and taking measures to reduce it will not only make things easier for the patient but also for you.
Written by: Rasha Ashraf