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4 years ago · · Comments Off on Four Ways to Cope with Sundowning

Four Ways to Cope with Sundowning


If you have a family member living with Alzheimer’s disease, you may be noticing changes in their behavior as the days become shorter and fall makes an appearance. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, roughly 20 percent of patients with Alzheimer’s experience sundown syndrome or “sundowning” – a shift in behaviors occurring in the late afternoon. It’s essential to watch for some specific signs to address these shifts and maintain a sense of normalcy. Neglecting symptoms of sundowning could lead to serious injury for your loved one or someone else.

What are the causes and symptoms of sundowning?

Sundowning is more likely to occur in someone with memory loss and can start around early evening and continue past nightfall. When Circadian rhythms—the cycles that tell the body when to eat, sleep, and wake—are interrupted, moods and behaviors can be thrown off balance. Research has not been able to pinpoint the direct cause of sundowning precisely; however, some possible causes of sundowning include:

  • Being overly tired

  • Depression

  • Pain

  • Boredom

While the cause of this phenomenon is mostly unknown, sundowning can trigger behavioral, cognitive, and emotional changes such as:

  • Anxiety

  • Sadness

  • Mood swings

  • Confusion

  • Delusions

How can you help individuals experiencing sundowning?

For some individuals who experience sundowning, symptoms usually abate after some time without intervention. However, for others, symptoms can last for hours, causing disorientation and confusion, a disruption in sleep schedules, etc. To help your loved one, you can take the following actions to mitigate the symptoms.

Maintain a routine and structure

Creating and maintaining a routine helps with dementia intervention and can also combat symptoms of sundown syndrome. Habits (for both day and night) can help reestablish a sense of stability and familiarity for your loved one with Alzheimer’s disease to disrupt sundowning symptoms further.

Reduce noise and clutter

Loud noises and disorganization can further exacerbate symptoms of sundowning, making it more difficult to address directly. You can help by designating quiet times early in the afternoon to prepare for the onset of sundowning in the evening. During this time, you can suggest your loved one:

  • Play soothing music

  • Read a light-hearted book (like a book of poetry)

  • Go for a walk

Additionally, reduce clutter in your loved ones living space to help lessen feelings of anxiety brought on by sundowning and disorganization.

Use distraction techniques

Attempting to reason with a loved one going through sundowning symptoms will prove fruitless. Instead, try distracting the person with things he or she likes. For example, you can offer:

  • Their favorite snacks or drinks

  • Suggest easy-to-complete tasks like putting away dishes

  • Turn on a favorite TV show (but not the news, that might be upsetting)

  • Have another family member or friend call

Adjust exposure to light

Many experts believe exposure to light regulates our internal clocks. Therefore, when light is limited during specific times of the year, our internal systems can be interrupted. As sunlight depletes, you should turn on brighter lights inside to minimize shadows that may cause confusion. You can also utilize lighting systems to automatically and gradually increase light before sunset and decrease brightness before it’s time to sleep. Tribute uses the Kentra LED lighting system to combat these sundowning effects on our residents and create lighting tailored to every room’s specific purpose and function.

How can Tribute Senior Living Help with Sundowning?

For a loved one you think may be experiencing sundowning, please contact the dedicated team at Tribute Senior Living. We have techniques and programs like Fight Club to empower those living at home (and at Tribute) to fight for their best lives.

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Categories: Sleep