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‘Sundowning’ in a person with dementia

‘Sundowning’ is a term used to describe a pattern of deterioration that can occur to a person living with Dementia over the course of a day. This means that people with various forms of dementia including Alzheimer’s disease are often found to be at their emotional best at earlier points in the day.

Possible indicators of ‘Sundowning’ include:

  • Increased levels of agitation
  • Decrease in comprehension
  • Inability to perform tasks that were possible earlier in the day
  • Confusion and anger
  • Inability to sleep
  • Restlessness

Sundowning can occur in any level of dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease. There is some scientific evidence to support the theory that Alzheimer’s causes severe damage to the parts of the brain that control the internal clock of body and the normal urges to sleep when tired and awake when rested are forever set off balance.

Sundowning can place a strain on both the person living with dementia and their care giver/s. It is exhausting and neither the person with dementia nor the caregiver may be at their emotional best at the end of the day. Knowing the basics of sundowning can make caring for a dementia or Alzheimer’s patient that is experiencing this symptom.

Some tips when caring for someone who is experiencing the indicators of sundowning:

  • Schedule outings for earlier in the day
    • Make the home environment comfortable and familiar in the afternoon
    • Consider having a routine that the person is comfortable with
    • Think about lighting and music to provide calming surroundings
    • Try to keep your own frustrations in check to ensure their agitation isn’t increased

It’s a good rule of thumb to take a deep breath and remember that patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s do not have control over their conditions or their emotions for the greater part of the time. Keeping a journal of sundowning symptoms and the ways they were successfully handled is a great way to see what methods work and what does not.

Caring for a patient with dementia or Alzheimer’s can be a frustrating, rewarding and enriching experience. Knowing some of the nuances that a person may experience can make the process easier for all involved.

Caregivers can benefit greatly from just taking a little time for themselves, especially if they have someone in their care that is experiencing sundowning on a regular basis.

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