If you’re an informal caregiver for an elderly loved one with dementia or Alzheimer’s, then you understand how their behavior can sometimes turn on a dime. There may be days when their actions become even more unpredictable and strange as evening approaches. If that’s happening to your senior, they could have a clinical condition that’s called Sundowner’s Syndrome, or “sundowning” for short. Trying to understand and manage Sundowner’s Syndrome can be challenging and stressful, but it is possible when taking these steps. 

What Causes Sundowner’s Syndrome?

Although researchers haven’t been able to identify a specific cause for Sundowner’s Syndrome yet, it appears to coincide with biochemical circadian rhythm changes that occur in the brain when the sun begins to set. According to WebMD, up to 20% of all Alzheimer’s patients may experience sundowning symptoms, but seniors who haven’t been diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s can also exhibit those signs.

Sundowner’s Syndrome Symptoms

Because sundowning appears to be a neurological phenomenon, it typically affects a senior in these ways as the natural sunlight fades and shadows appear:

  • Their confusion level noticeably elevates.
  • They exhibit physical and mental fatigue. 
  • It’s possible for them to become unusually agitated and yell more at their caregiver.
  • Amplified tremors are possible, and sometimes uncontrollable.
  • They have dramatic mood swings that seem to be aggravated by noise. 
  • There’s an elevated state of restlessness while trying to sleep, which leads to pacing and wandering. 

When you’re the caregiver, these behaviors can place both you and your loved one at risk if you’re not equipped to handle the situation. 

How to Minimize Sundowning Episodes

In all honesty, it’s going to be difficult to prevent Sundowner’s Syndrome from affecting your loved one if they have it. But there are some reliable ways to minimize the frequency and intensity of sundowning episodes, including: 

Make Evenings Quieter

Try turning off the TV earlier in the evening, and then play some relaxing and soothing music in the room instead. It’s also important to minimize noise and other distractions that could keep your senior from transitioning into the mindset that it’s time for bed. 

Take a Walk

Although a full-blown exercise routine doesn’t work for someone with Alzheimer’s or serious dementia, you can still involve them in lighter forms of exercising like taking a walk outdoors while the sun’s out. This will not only calm their mind, it should also promote a more restful sleep for the two of you. 

Increase Sunlight Exposure

Exposing seniors with Sundowner’s Syndrome to sunlight in general has been found to help reset their internal circadian “clock” by promoting the release of the sleep-inducing natural hormone called melatonin. Take them to the local park with you or just sit outside together in the backyard, and try keeping the home’s window coverings open during the day. 

Eating Habits and Diet

Certain foods and beverages may aggravate Sundowner’s Syndrome, so make sure they avoid sugar and caffeine products after noon. You can also add supplements to their diet (Only with their doctor’s approval!) like Vitamin E, St. John’s Wort, gingko biloba or melatonin. Move dinnertime up to the late afternoon or early evening, and serve your senior larger meals earlier in the day and healthy, light snacks as evening approaches.

Routines are Good

This can be challenging while juggling doctor’s appointments and other activities, but try to establish a set routine for your senior. That includes specific times for going to bed, eating, bathing and waking up. Also try to keep them from napping during the day. 

Compassionate In-Home Care for Seniors with Dementia

Caring for an aging loved one with dementia can be time-consuming and exhausting. When you need a break, contact First In Care. As a private licensed and insured home health agency, our professional and compassionate caregivers can deliver in-home services for dementia care, personal care, companion care and skilled nursing. While serving as an extended family in your loved one’s home, our caregiving experts use a unique approach that’s designed to keep seniors safe and comfortable right where they want to be.

From a few hours per week, to 24-hour monitoring and R.N. availability, our goal is improving your senior’s quality of life so they will feel dignified, self-assured and independent no matter where they live! To learn more about our family trusted home healthcare services now, or to schedule an initial consultation for a senior in Manatee County, FL, today, please visit us at: www.firstincare.com