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What Is Sundown Syndrome?

senior woman looking out window
Credit: Andres / Adobe Stock

If your loved one battles dementia or Alzheimer's, you'll want to look out for symptoms of Sundown Syndrome, a neurological phenomenon most commonly present in elderly individuals. This condition triggers an unprompted array of emotions and behaviors as daylight transitions to darkness.

Here’s what Sundown Syndrome is and how you can help manage symptoms for those in your life who are experiencing it.

What is Sundown Syndrome?

Sundown Syndrome, also called "sundowning," is a neurological phenomenon that causes severe behavioral and cognitive changes, typically for people with dementia, due to transitioning from day to night. According to research conducted by the Alzheimer’s Association, about 20% of people with Alzheimer's will experience sundowning.

This syndrome can be triggered by the lack of light causing confusing shadows, exhaustion from a full day, or even just the added chaos that can come with the end-of-day activities such as family members coming home from work. In some cases, symptoms may occur due to some over-the-counter and prescription medications.

Symptoms of Sundown Syndrome

Symptoms of Sundown Syndrome can be wide-ranging and affect everyone differently, with many going unnoticed for some time. It’s important to monitor your loved one for a pattern of returning symptoms, which can include:

● Anger

● Anxiety

● Repeating questions and interrupting

● Restlessness

● Sadness

● Shadowing caregivers or others

In more severe cases, sundowning may look like:

● Acting violently

● Hallucinating

● Hiding things

How to help seniors manage Sundown Syndrome

Minimize triggers.

Avoiding triggers can help stop Sundown Syndrome before it arises. Triggers may include low light, strange shadows as the sun sets, fatigue from being awake all day, and loud activities such as cooking dinner or turning on the television. Sundowning can also be caused by internal imbalances or even infections.

Validate their experiences.

Oftentimes, those with dementia experience anxieties that may not make sense to us. However, it’s important to support loved ones when they are going through this. Validating them and providing reassurance can help calm your loved one and make them feel safe when they’re experiencing something they can’t fully understand.

Establish a routine.

With dementia, routine is crucial to stopping triggers because it limits surprises and confusion. Establishing a routine and having some predictability throughout the day helps alleviate anxieties and stresses and can help loved ones feel more comfortable overall.

Monitor their diet.

Monitoring your loved one’s diets to avoid triggers such as alcohol, caffeine, and other sugary drinks can have a tremendous effect when dealing with Sundown Syndrome. Specifically, you’ll want to help your loved one limit their caffeine and sugar intake to just the morning to avoid late-night sleep disruptions and have them avoid alcohol altogether, as it can cause confusion for those with dementia.

Try light therapy.

Sundowning can be triggered by the setting sun, confusing those with dementia into thinking it’s later in the day than it actually is. Experts believe our bodies are regulated by exposure to light, which can be particularly challenging in the winter for someone experiencing Sundowning Syndrome. Light therapy can be used to minimize sundowning effects by helping with depression, lightening up any confusing shadows indoors, and keeping surroundings familiar.

Consider moving your loved one to a memory care facility.

Managing symptoms of Sundown Syndrome isn’t easy, but a trained expert can make all the difference in helping care for your loved one during a confusing and often scary experience. That’s why you’ll want to find a senior living community that will support your loved one with Sundown Syndrome. Welcome Home Senior Services & Placement Co. can help you do just that. Contact us today to speak with our senior placement specialists, who can connect you with any of the hundreds of Florida communities we represent.



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