Senior man in pajamas sitting outside house at night

As the sun starts to set, many of us can relax after a long day and prepare for a quiet evening to unwind – unless you are providing care for someone with dementia. Sundowning, or sundown syndrome, is a frequent occurrence in Alzheimer’s disease along with other forms of dementia, and can bring about restless, sleepless nights of anxiety, disorientation, confusion, and agitation – for several hours as the sun sets, or even for the entire night.

The precise cause behind sundowning behaviors isn’t fully understood, but contributing factors may include:

  • A disruption in the older adult’s internal body clock
  • A need for less sleep
  • Medication side effects
  • The inability to distinguish reality from dreams, leading to disorientation
  • Physical and/or mental fatigue and exhaustion from a stressful day

Try these guidelines to help minimize or prevent the effects of sundowning with Alzheimer’s:

  • Before the sun sets, close drapes and pull down window shades, so the older adult can’t see the darkening sky – and, ensure there’s a good amount of light throughout the residence.
  • Try to organize the senior’s day to include plenty of activities and deter late day napping.
  • Switch to calming, soothing activities towards the end of the day. Turn off the TV, play quiet music, and offer the senior a cup of warm herbal tea or milk.
  • Pay attention to the older adult’s eating habits during the day, limiting caffeine and sweets to the morning hours and serving an earlier dinner.
  • Speak to the senior’s physician for advice and to confirm there aren’t any underlying physical conditions contributing to the problem, such as incontinence or other bladder issues or anything leading to physical pain. The physician may recommend a medication to help the older adult to relax in the evening.

If, in spite of these tactics, the senior continues to be agitated and stays awake during the nighttime hours, there are several actions you can take to help. First and foremost, remain calm and steer clear of arguing or getting into lengthy conversations. Simply offer assurance that your loved one is safe and everything is okay. Determine if there’s something your loved one needs, and after addressing any particular concerns, gently remind your senior loved one of the time, and recommend getting some sleep. Your loved one could also feel more comfortable in an alternate sleeping environment, such as in a favorite chair or guest bedroom, using nightlights or other indirect, soft lighting.

The skilled and experienced dementia care professionals at Hearts at Home In-Home Care offer a great solution to sundowning or any other challenging behaviors. We are available to take the night shift and help seniors engage in calming and enjoyable activities when sleep eludes them, allowing family caregivers the chance to get the rest they need. We even offer around-the-clock, live-in care to make certain seniors are safe and well taken care of any time of day.

If a senior you love prefers aging in place in Kansas City or the surrounding areas, contact us at 913-440-4209 any time and let us design a customized care plan to meet your specific needs, and improve quality of life for a senior you love.