Senior man in pajamas sitting outside house at night

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

The precise cause behind sundowning behaviors is not fully understood, but contributing factors can include:

  • A disruption in the senior’s internal body clock
  • A requirement for decreased sleep
  • Medication side effects
  • The inability to differentiate reality from dreams, leading to disorientation
  • Mental and/or physical exhaustion and fatigue from a frustrating day

Try these sundowning management suggestions to help minimize or prevent the effects of this behavior:

  • Just before the sun sets, close drapes and pull down window shades, so the senior does not notice the darkening sky – and, make sure there is plenty of light throughout the home.
  • Try to schedule the senior’s day to include plenty of activity and discourage afternoon napping.
  • Switch to calming, soothing activities towards the end of the day. Turn off the TV, play peaceful music, and give your loved one a cup of warm herbal tea or milk.
  • Take note of the older adult’s eating habits during the day, limiting caffeine and sweets to the morning hours and serving an earlier dinner.
  • Talk to the older adult’s doctor for advice and also to confirm there are not 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 senior to relax in the evening.

If, regardless of these strategies, the senior is still agitated and staying awake during the nighttime hours, there are a number of things you can do to help. Most importantly, remain calm and avoid arguing or engaging in lengthy conversations. Simply provide reassurance that your senior loved one is safe and everything is ok. Determine if there’s something your loved one needs, and after taking care of any specific concerns, gently point out the time to the senior, and propose getting some sleep. The senior could also feel more at ease in an alternate sleeping environment, such as in a comfortable chair or a guest bedroom, using nightlights or other indirect, soft lighting.

The trained and experienced Barrington memory care professionals at Inspired Home Care offer a great solution to sundowning or any other challenging behaviors. We are available to take the night shift and help seniors take part in calming and enjoyable activities when sleep eludes them, allowing family caregivers the opportunity to get the rest they need. We even provide around-the-clock, live-in care to ensure older adults are safe and well cared for any time of day.

Contact the Barrington memory care experts at 847-787-7572 any time and let us design a customized care plan to meet your particular needs, and improve quality of life for a senior you love. To learn about each of the communities where we provide care, please visit our Locations Served page.