As we grow older, our bodies and minds may not operate at the same speed & efficiency as it once did. The decline of mobility and health as we age is inevitable, but the effects can be minimized if we prioritize our physical and mental well-being. The risk of contracting memory loss diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia are also increased as we age. Still, in some cases, the symptoms are only aggravated when the sun begins to set and the nighttime approaches. Sundowning is a symptom of Alzheimer’s disease & dementia and results in aggressiveness, confusion, or irascibility.
Scientifically, the reasons behind sundowning are not clear; however, research has determined that it is common in those with early-onset dementia. One hypothesis concludes that the effects of dementia and Alzheimer’s can skew an individual’s circadian rhythm, which may result in convoluted sleep cycles. Other potential reasons that someone experience sundowning symptoms may include:
- Excessive fatigue
- Excessive thirst and hunger
- Chronic depression
- Extreme pain
- Constant boredom and lethargy
How to Detect Sundowning
If you believe a loved one may be experiencing sundowning symptoms, be mindful in the evening when the sun is beginning to set – certain signs such as increased anxiety or bewilderment could be indicative of sundowning. Around this time of day, a loved one with sundowning symptoms may abruptly become angry or flustered – remain patient, understanding and reassure them that everything will be okay. Here are some things you can do to help them cope:
- Limit the amount of noise, light and activity in the room. If there are a lot of people in the room, kindly ask them to leave; a heavily populated room can perpetuate symptoms of sundowning.
- Attempt to occupy your loved ones with their favourite foods or treats, and you may also want to try to occupy their mind by breaking out their favourite board game or movie.
- Implement a quiet rule in the evening time- instead of turning on the TV and playing loud music, utilize dim lights, help them pick out a book to read or go for a walk with them.
- Shut the curtains before the sun sets to prevent shadows from confusing your loved one.
How to Prevent Sundowning
You can assist your loved one by enacting preventative measures to ensure their symptoms are lessened.
- Help your loved one go outside, especially in the daylight- daily exposure to sunlight can help fix their circadian rhythm.
- Ensure your loved one gets a decent dose of physical exercise (i.e. walking, jogging, swimming, etc.)
- If your loved one must nap throughout the day, ensure the naps are short (1-1.5 hours maximum)
- Ensure they’re not drinking any alcohol or caffeinated beverages 4-5 hours before bed
- Keep activities light throughout the daytime – a day that is full of events may tire your loved one and add to the confusion.