If your loved one has dementia or Alzheimer’s, they might be experiencing something called Sundowning or Sundowners Syndrome. Sundowning usually happens right before nightfall and includes certain behaviors like agitation, hallucinations, fear, confusion and sadness. Not only is it distressing for the individual, but can be stressful for the caregiver involved as well.
There are many symptoms to sundowning. When a senior in sundowning they may feel they are missing out on something, have forgotten something or don't know what’s happening. This can leave them feeling really uneasy, confused and upset that they can’t remember, which can lead to anger, agitation and anxiety. It can be really frustrating to not be able to complete a thought and they may become very sad and scared. In their confusion they may ask the same question repeatedly and really struggle to communicate their needs. Other symptoms could include wandering, trying to escape, trying to run an errand or go to an important location they haven't been to in years. If your loved one is experiencing any of these symptoms we hope the rest of this article will help you and your loved one have more peace during this challenging time.
Here are a couple tips for taking care of someone with Sundowners Syndrome:
One of the biggest things to know about sundowning is to remain patient and calm. Dementia is challenging, and episodes like sundowning cannot be reasoned with. Even when they are really confused, they can pick up on your impatience and frustration and it can make it worse. Try to approach your loved one in a calm manner and try to remain very neutral with the situation. Realize that this challenging moment is the disease and not your loved one.
Though is may be hard, avoiding conflict will be your best way to respond to their sundowning. Arguing or asking for explanations about the way they are thinking or feeling will cause more confusion and agitation. Playing along with what they are thinking can help ease their concerns and help you direct the conversation. Distracting them from their train of thought can also be helpful. It may feel uncomfortable to try to redirect a loved one when they are so passionate about their concerns, but overall it is better for them to try to forget about the concern than trying to solve it.
As you start to notice what times they start to become agitated you can start to create a calming environment where the commotion has been decreased. If they are getting agitated in the evenings you can close the blinds or curtains. This makes it so they don't notice the light changing during that time of day. You can also turn on calming music to help them stay relaxed and happy.
Our last tip is to create a routine that you can follow together. It can be as simple as eating dinner, cleaning the kitchen, brushing teeth, wash their face then getting pajamas on. This can help them start to realize it’s time to wind down and the day is coming to an end. Creating a routine can help alleviate anxiety and helps your loved one feel comfortable and structured. This is ideally what they need, for sundowning is usually when they feel they are missing something or have forgotten something. Having a routine schedule can bring them a lot of peace.
Whatever level your loved one may be experiencing sundowning, there are ways to still enjoy this challenging time. When we learn new skills of how to work with our dementia loved ones, everyone involved can have more peace in the process
Best of luck to you and your loved one.