If your loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, you may have noticed a sudden change in their behavior later in the day or as the sun begins to set. This phenomenon is known as sundowning, often referred to as late-day confusion. Sundowning is a fairly common occurrence for dementia patients, especially those in a more advanced stage of the disease.
Agitation and confusion are well known side effects of all forms of dementia, and sundowning exasperates these behaviors in the later part of the day as compared to earlier daytime hours. When these symptoms occur it is not only scary and overwhelming for the patient, it can be heartbreaking for those who love them to witness.
The exact causes of sundowning are still not fully known or understood, so there is no way at this point in time to prevent it completely. Fortunately, there are ways to help reduce some of the confusion, agitation and other extreme symptoms before they occur. We’ve listed some of these below.
Conduct Important Activities in the Morning
You’ve probably noticed that your loved one seems more alert and clear headed in the earlier hours of the day. Because sundowning symptoms tend to present themselves later in the afternoon or early evening, it’s best to schedule any visits, medical appointments, hair cuts, outings, or any other stimulating activity during the hours before mid-afternoon.
Make a Schedule and Stick To It
We all feel most secure with what we are most familiar with, and this is especially true for patients with dementia. Dementia can make it hard for our loved ones to develop and remember their regular daily routines. When put into an unfamiliar environment or participating in unfamiliar activities, especially in the late afternoon, stress, confusion, disorientation, anger – and sadly sometimes violence – can be the result. Numerous studies have shown that feelings of unfamiliarity play a major part in the onset of sundowning.
For this reason, it is important to build a routine that revolves around doing the same activities at about the same time everyday. There should be a set time for eating, bathing, waking up, dressing, and going to bed at as close to the same time each day as possible. By ensuring that your loved one is on a regular schedule you can reduce the chance of confusion and agitation occurring, helping to keep them calm and at ease.
Skilled nursing facilities that specialize in memory care are excellent at creating and maintaining regular daily activities for seniors.
Brighten Their World
The body’s internal clock for controlling the sleep-wake cycle is known as circadian rhythm. Common thinking is that disruption in the circadian rhythm is one of the major causes of sundowning. One of the most important steps to take in reducing symptoms of sundowning is to adjust and control the lighting in the dementia patient’s environment.
Multiple studies have shown that a decrease in natural light can increase the agitation and confusion connected to sundowning in dementia patients. These studies have also shown that placing a full-spectrum fluorescent light about 3 feet from the patient for a few hours each morning can help reduce these symptoms.
Controlling the light in the environment is just as important in the evening as well. Any sources of light, like a television, tablet, or mobile phone should be turned off at night. Room lighting should be turned as low as safely possible.
The symptoms associated with sundowning can cause a great deal of anxiety and stress for both patients suffering with dementia and those who love and care for them. Prodigy Transitional Rehab provides a secure form of long-term skilled nursing that specifically caters to patients with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and other types of memory problems.
Our focus is on providing each patient with a positive experience. We partner with local hospitals, physicians and insurance companies to support our patients’ care to help them live as comfortable a life as possible. Contact us today to learn more.