If you’ve ever visited with your loved one who suffers from dementia related to Alzheimer’s disease, you may have noticed the marked difference in mood and behavior between daytime visits and evening visits. You may notice that during the daytime, they may be more like their normal old self, talking and engaging, although quite forgetful. However, as dinner time approaches, they may appear to be more agitated and angry, even becoming violent. This is not due to anything you’ve said or done, and is more than likely due to a phenomenon called “sundowning.” In today’s post, we will discuss what Sundowner’s syndrome is and how you can support your loved one through it.

What is Sundowners Syndrome?

Sundowners syndrome is a set of neuropsychotic symptoms that occur in those who suffer from mid-to-late stages of Alzheimer’s disease. The exact causes of Sundowners syndrome and its symptoms aren’t well understood, but it is evident that there is a correlation between the circadian rhythm, natural sunlight, and the symptoms.
As the day wears on, most of us have increased difficulty in concentrating and processing complex thoughts as we tire. You may notice that you do your best work or thinking in the late morning and early afternoon when your mind and body have fully awoken, and the sun is at its peak. As sunlight begins to wane, we naturally begin to relax and tire, readying our minds and body for the rest the night should bring. It is the same for those with dementia, however, those in the later stages, are not able to readily control thought processes or acknowledge basic needs like hunger or the need to void.

Sundowning is expressed in mood swings, confusion, sadness, aggression, anger, anxiety, pacing, rocking, hallucinations, resistance, crying, disorientation, and escalation that may result in violence to self or others.

What Can We Do?

There is little anyone can do to alter the neurological effects of the natural sleep-wake cycle or the rising and setting of the sun. So, the management of Sundowners syndrome is focused on awareness and support.
If your loved one lives at a memory care assisted living center, you may have noticed that dinner is served much earlier than a typical household’s dinner is — typically between 4:30 and 5:30 pm. You may also notice that there are little activities in the evening, and most residents will go to bed shortly after dinner — even as early as 6 pm! This is all in following the natural circadian rhythm and helps decrease negative behaviors while supporting a full active day. Daytime naps may be discouraged in late stages of Alzheimer’s as this can negatively impact the sleep-wake cycle and disrupt nighttime sleep or trigger the early onset of Sundowner’s syndrome.

Other things we can do to support the memory impaired and reduce the symptoms of Sundowner’s include:

  • Reduce or eliminate caffeine
  • Offer plenty of physical activity during the daytime
  • Reserve late morning or early afternoon for mentally stimulating activities
  • Offer plenty of sunlight — get outside or open the blinds
  • When you notice symptoms begin, redirect attention
  • Track behaviors and learn their patterns
  • Tend to basic needs — toileting, feeding, comfort, etc.
  • Don’t take it personally!

Seek the Support of a Local Memory Care Assisted Living Center

At Serenity Gardens Memory Care Assisted Living center in Dickinson and Friendswood, we are no stranger to Sundowner’s syndrome and its impact on our residents and their families. Our staff is specially trained in managing the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and are largely successful at thwarting the stressful behaviors associated with Sundowner’s syndrome. If your loved one suffers from Alzheimer’s disease and you are finding it increasingly difficult to care for them at home, consider bringing them home to Serenity Gardens.

Our family-style setting is less like an assisted living facility and more like home. We have small resident numbers, and children and pets that truly make it feel like home. All meals are served in a family-style dining room, and we offer all the amenities of home in a safe environment created for those with memory impairment. Visit us online to learn more, and schedule your tour today.