What is Sundowning Behavior and what can be done to deal with it?
Sundowner’s syndrome is a condition that affects individuals with dementia … or the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. As the day progresses and the sun begin to go down… symptoms of increased confusion, agitation and restlessness occur. Some individuals may show signs in the early afternoon.
As the evening progresses… a person may become negative, irrational, confused. And at times, aggressive.
It is not understood why this syndrome occurs. It was believed by researchers… to be a malfunction in the brain’s internal awake/sleep clock (circadian rhythm).
Another theory that is more widely considered today… a person with dementia becomes tired. Instead of the body and mind starting to relax to rest for nighttime… the brain becomes over stimulated.
The changes in the loss of cognitive abilities and the ability to process… may increase the stress in a person with dementia that they are not able to understand. This overstimulation causes a person to become … irrational, confused and at times, physically aggressive.
As a family caregiver dealing with a family member that is experiencing sundowner’s … is very frustrating and exhausting.
It is important to know that that there are things that a family caregiver can do… to manage and cope with Sundowner’s syndrome.
Different approaches to managing this condition may include medications, environmental and behavioral approaches.
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Medications suggested by your health care provider to decrease :
- Assist with sleep
- Address depression
It is important for the family caregiver to include… behavioral and environmental management for a more successful outcome.
It is also important for a family caregiver to be aware that some individuals with dementia… may experience a paradoxal, or have the opposite effect to the medications they are prescribed.
Simply put, a medication that is supposed to calm down a person may actually… increase their agitation and confusion. This happens most often in individuals that have the Lewy Body type of dementia.
The most important factors that a family caregiver can control are the environment. Developing a consistent routine is key. Change can be overwhelming as a person loses the ability to do everyday tasks. It causes stress and makes it increasingly difficult to handle as the day goes on.
More on Sundowning behavior
A daily routine should include:
- Time outside or exposure to the sunlight or a bright light to establish awake and sleep cycles.
- Activities should be planned … so that the most stressing and demanding be as early in the day as possible.
As the day progresses, the activities should be less stressful.
A short nap, after lunch, may help to refresh a person. Long midday or evening naps should be avoided.
If at all possible… an afternoon walk or pleasurable activity … to help keep the person's energy level up is important.
As the afternoon progresses, creating a calm and quiet environment is very important. Develop a routine of pulling down shades or drawing the curtains. This is to create a nighttime environment. It is important to developing the awake/ sleep cycle.
The evening should be a time of calm – the noises in the home should be at a low level.
Many family members do not realize how distracting TV or loud noises can be.
This is a time for soft music, the phone should be turned down and the fewer the distractions the better.
This routine should start as soon as the last meal of the day is over.
Taking care of someone that is suffering from Sundowners is exhausting… for the caregiver. It is so important that the family caregivers take care of themselves and get plenty of rest, as well. This is a time when a family care giver may need to seek help from others… to maintain their loved one at home.