5 Steps to Manage Sundowners Symptoms

by | Mar 15, 2022 | Alzheimer's Disease, Dementia, Dementia Behaviors, Sundowners

If you’re a dementia caregiver, you have probably heard of Sundowner’s Syndrome or late-day confusion. Simply put, it sparks certain behavioral changes in an Alzheimer’s patient late afternoon or early evening. These sundowners symptoms start to emerge with the setting of the sun. This is why this phenomenon is known as ‘Sundowning.’

While Sundowning can affect anyone, it especially disturbs dementia patients. This is probably because dementia patients have a disturbed biological clock. And this causes confusion and disorientation during the evening.

Common Signs and Symptoms of Sundowning

Here are a few common signs of Sundowning in dementia patients:

  • Anxiety
  • Confusion/Disorientation
  • Mood swings
  • Hallucinations
  • Restlessness
  • Yelling
  • Sadness

Steps to Manage Sundowners Symptoms

Sundowner’s Syndrome affects 1 in 5 Alzheimer’s disease patients. Taking care of dementia patients is difficult as it is. And this job becomes even more cumbersome late afternoon. This is why it is important to manage the sundowners symptoms mentioned above. The severity of these symptoms will vary according to the stage at which the dementia patient is.

If you’re not a professional caregiver, you might be taken aback by the behavioral changes during Sundowning. A dementia patient may even recede and refuse to communicate. This can pose an issue not only for you, but worsen their condition too.

Here are 5 steps to manage sundowners symptoms. This will alleviate your dementia patient’s pain. And also get some reprieve yourself.

1.    Ensure Their Basic Needs are Fulfilled

In the section above, we talked about the common signs of Sundowning in dementia patients. While the exact causes for sundowners syndrome are unknown, there are some risk factors. Dementia patients portray more pronounced symptoms of Sundowning if their basic needs are not met. If a dementia patient is feeling hungry, thirsty, or tired, they will react to Sundowning worse than usual.

The first step to keeping Sundowning symptoms in check is ensuring your loved ones are well-rested and well-fed. A dementia patient’s feelings often go unnoticed. This is because they refuse to communicate most of the time.

As a dementia caregiver, gently ask them if they are hungry. Make sure there is water present next to them. Feed them a hearty, big lunch and avoid late evening snacking. Taking care of their primal needs will make them less agitated. And this in turn will make it easier for you to manage their Sundowning symptoms.

2.    Help Them Stay Active

A sedentary lifestyle isn’t good for anyone, not even dementia patients. Ensuring dementia patients stay active will alleviate some of the Sundowning symptoms that they may experience. One of the primary risk factors for Sundowning is fatigue. Dementia patients experience a muddled biological clock. So they often have trouble falling asleep at night. This results in restlessness and tiredness the next day. Furthermore, it aggravates symptoms of Sundowning.

To ensure a sound night’s sleep, you should try to engage your dementia patient in 15-20 minutes of mild exercise daily. This will help their body work up an appetite for sleep. And they will be more likely to enjoy a proper night’s sleep.

To add to that, exercise releases serotonin, which is a feel-good hormone. This hormone regulates mood swings that are a common sign of Sundowning among dementia patients. If your dementia patient is hesitant, just take them out for a light walk to their favorite park while the sun is out. This way, they’ll remain active and also catch some much-needed sunlight.

3.    Create Comfortable Surroundings

Dementia patients are often perturbed by a change in surroundings. If they sense a change in their environment or any discomfort, they will react. If you want to lessen the effects of Sundowning in dementia patients, you need to create a comfortable environment. Of course, this will vary with each person. For dementia patients, what’s familiar is often most comfortable.

To do this, you should first try to de-clutter their room. Since dementia patients are disturbed by changes in light, they don’t want more confusion. Remove excess furniture or things lying around that could get in their way. Moreover, you should also increase their exposure to light to balance out sundowner’s effects. You can do this by adding extra lights in the room, especially later in the evening. This way, they won’t feel the sun setting and you would be able to manage their symptoms better.

Also, make sure there is no loud noise in the background that may disturb them. When their environment is so relaxed, they won’t react as badly to the effects of Sundowning.

4.    Maintain Structure and Routine

Since dementia patients can’t remember things, they will follow a structure and routine. However, Sundowning may pose confusion for them, and they start showing signs of this syndrome. One way to alleviate the effects of Sundowning is to maintain their routine. Deviating from their schedule will add to the effects of Sundowning and make it harder for dementia caregivers to manage them.

Following a routine means ensuring dementia patients go to bed early and wake up on time. This is important so dementia patients consistently receive the maximum exposure to sunlight before late afternoon. If they don’t, they may start showing severe signs of Sundowning. A dementia patient under the effect of Sundowning may even start yelling and throwing things.

When you follow a routine, dementia patients will be in a better position to sleep and eat on time. When these basic needs are met, the symptoms of sundowners won’t be as bad either.

5.    Distract and Engage Them in Activities

When a dementia patient is experiencing sundowners symptoms, don’t make the mistake of trying to reason with them. It just won’t work! Instead, let them know you are listening to them and try to validate their feelings. Dementia patients tend to react more when their feelings are not heard or understood.

Instead, you should try to distract them with productive activities that they like during the late afternoon and early evening. You could put on their favorite movie or TV show. Or you could play a game that they like playing. Additionally, you could also help them paint or listen to soothing music-whatever it is that they like.

With this positive distraction, you’ll be able to help them go through Sundowning without experiencing most of the symptoms.

Final Word

Dementia caregivers can follow the steps given above to manage sundowner’s symptoms. With this, it will be easier for you to handle and relay the best care to dementia patients. It will also help ad protect your mental sanity, saving you from overt displays of delirium that are common with Sundowning.

We Are Here To Help

At Sycamore Creek Ranch Memory Care we are here to help. We want families to make the best decision for their situation

Furthermore, the staff at Sycamore Creek Ranch is proactive. That means we are not waiting for a problem to arise. Instead, we are actively engaged with each and every resident. And with only 16 residents we can do that!

If you are looking for Memory Care in The Woodlands or Memory  Care in Spring, Texas come for a tour at Sycamore Creek Ranch! See how we can help.




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