Sundowning is a symptom of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia that usually occurs in the late afternoon or evening, or as the sun goes down. Behaviors such as confusion, anxiety, aggression or wandering are typical during sundowning and can last until bedtime or prevent the person from getting to sleep.
The exact cause of sundowning isn’t known, but is thought to be related to changes in the body’s circadian rhythms. Environmental factors such as frustration, stress or too much activity can also trigger sundowning. For example someone with Alzheimer’s can pick up on cues from their caregiver who might also be tired or frustrated after taking care of their loved one all day.
While you might not be able to completely eliminate sundowning there are steps you can take to ease the symptoms.
- Try to stay calm in the late afternoon and evening hours, keep background noise and overstimulating or challenging activities to a minimum
- Keep areas in your home brightly lit in the afternoon and evening. A tip from the Alzheimer’s Association notes reduced lighting and shadows can cause people with Alzheimer’s to misinterpret what they see, and become confused and afraid.
- Promote evening activities such as listening to familiar music or looking through family photo albums
- Limit daytime napping
- Try to schedule appointments or activities during the morning hours when your loved one is rested and more agreeable
- Stick with a regular evening routine with meals or bathing taking place at the same time each day
- If you sense your loved one is becoming agitated try and engage them in an activity they enjoy such as setting the dinner table or folding laundry
- If you are the primary caregiver, take time for yourself each day to avoid caregiver burnout
Read more about a typical day at The Memory Center and our program for caring for those living with Alzheimer’s and dementia.