If you’ve ever experienced jetlag after a trip overseas, you know how frustrating it can be to have your body clock out of whack. Many experts theorize that similar body clock challenges are to blame for the phenomenon known as “sundowning” in Alzheimer’s patients.

What is “Sundowning”?

Sundowning can be described as an increased restlessness or agitation that occurs around dusk. The causes of the phenomenon that occurs in patients with dementia related diseases have not been pinpointed, but many plausible explanations have been offered.

  • fatigue
  • misaligned body clock due to changes in the brain caused by Alzheimer’s
  • increased confusion that occurs because of light changes or lengthening shadows
  • hunger
  • pain
  • depression
  • frustration at the inability to express their needs

This increased restlessness and agitation in patients often comes at a time of day when their caregivers are most exhausted, compounding the issue and frustration for both.

Tips for Minimizing Sundowning Symptoms

As with many health issues, the best cure is prevention. Those who have worked with persons with Alzheimer’s and other dementia diseases have found some of the following practices helpful in reducing the restlessness associated with sundowning.

  • Get a little bit of sunlight everyday during the day to help keep the body clock synched.
  • Do some sort of physical activity during the day. Exercise promotes better sleeping. Even a walk around the block can make a difference.
  • As dusk approaches and shadows lengthen, clothes curtains or blinds and turn on inside lights. This reduces the length of the shadows and may, in turn, reduce frustration.
  • Reduce the clutter in the room. This includes things as well as people and noise. The less the patient has to digest and process mentally, the less the chance of them growing frustrated or overwhelmed.
  • Redirect them when they focus on something negative. Listen, but suggest something else for them to focus on like folding laundry, listening to calm music, or eating a snack.
  • Have a relaxing evening routine that possibly includes soft, soothing music, a good meal, or a warm bath.
  • Eliminate anything that might affect their ability to sleep. Common culprits include caffeine, alcohol, and certain medications. (Note: always check with a doctor before eliminating a medication. They might suggest an alternative that serves the same purpose without the sleepless side effects.)
  • Find a good balance of activities during the day. Too many lead to fatigue and too few lead to boredom. Find a happy medium that seems to suit the patient.

Caring for the Other too

Sometimes the best way to cope with sundowning is to be refreshed enough to understand why it’s happening. Relatives who stay at home with a loved one with Alzheimer’s all day long often don’t have the wherewithal to tolerate the additional symptoms associated with sundowning. If that sounds like you, look into some respite options. One such option is to look for dementia home care services. The professional staff can provide appropriate levels of activity for your loved one while you get some much needed time to yourself.