“I am about to pull my hair out!” Marcie cried. “ I have been caring for mother for 5 years now. She has Alzheimer’s Disease. I thought I could handle it but that was before Sundowners entered the scene!”
Sundowners- This is the name given to a set of symptoms people with Dementia will often experience around the time the sun begins to go down.
Marcie went on to tell me about her mother.
“She was such a sweet lady. Everyone loved her. Our house was the “go to” place. Friends, family, everyone gathered here because they were always welcome. Mom made everyone feel special. She listened, consoled and took care of anyone who needed taking care of.”
“But now, she has become this mean vindictive person that I don’t know anymore. She cusses like a sailor and even spits at people sometimes. Needless to say, we do not have many visitors anymore. What really upsets me though is mother would be mortified if she had any idea she was behaving this way.”
Sundowners Affects A Lot of Families Dealing With Alzheimers Disease
Not all patients with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia will experience this but many do. The symptoms can range from mild confusion, sadness, and anxiety to full-blown episodes of paranoia and anger. Some people will exhibit symptoms all day long that grow progressively worse in the late afternoon and early evening hours.
There are a number of theories about why this happens. Some doctors believe that it may be a hormonal imbalance that occurs at night. Others feel Sundowner’s Syndrome is caused by fatigue, much like a young child will get cranky late in the day if they have missed their nap.
Could the Light or Lack of It Be To Blame?
Darkness has also been studied. When there is less light and more shadows this may cause confusion and anxiety and the Alzheimer’s patient tries to make sense of what they are seeing around them. Regardless of the reasons it happens, caregivers just want to know what they can do.
“Her doctor keeps suggesting anxiety medication. But I really don’t want to drug mom.”
This is a common cry among families who have someone with Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia. They are just not sure what to do. The symptoms of sundowners are often hard to deal with. Some of the symptoms Marcie and others are dealing with include:
- Agitation (becoming increasingly upset or anxious)
- Anger (May use foul language or yell. May even hit or throw things)
- Restless (pacing)
- Un-controllable crying
Regardless of the reason for this sudden change in behavior, if you are caring for someone who is experiencing Sundowners symptoms you need some solutions to help. Using medication should be the last resort.
Here are 3 Drug -Free Solutions you can try when dealing with sundowners.
1. Keep a Daily Routine
Routines often help provide a stable atmosphere for someone who has dementia. Knowing what to expect at certain times of the day can help create a feeling of certainty that is comforting. Even though someone with dementia may not remember what comes next, their body will retain the feeling of familiarity.
Schedule doctor’s visits and outside activities earlier in the day, when you know your loved one will be feeling their best. Dragging someone with Dementia to the grocery store to go shopping in the late afternoon is a recipe for disaster.
2. Be Wary of Sensory Overload
Too much stimulation early in the day can really overload someone with dementia causing Sundowners syndrome to raise its ugly head. If possible, have visitors in the earlier part of the day. You will also want to pay attention to their diet. Limit caffeine and sweets to the earlier part of the day.
When there are a number of people talking at once it can be quite confusing for someone with dementia. This can cause agitation and nervousness.
Schedule Early in The Day
Likewise, schedule exercise and stimulating activities early as well. As you move into mid-afternoon aim for less strenuous and more calming activities. Coloring books are all the rage right now and would be a really great activity for the afternoon.
Ladies might like to have their hands massaged and their nails manicured. Likewise, a man might enjoy a shoulder or foot rub. Playing some music from the past or engaging the person in a sing-along can all help with the symptoms
3. Go With The Flow-Don’t Argue
Arguing with someone with dementia is akin to beating your head against the wall. It doesn’t make any sense. Don’t do it. It will only cause more agitation and frustration for both of you. Remember you have entered their world. Whatever they believe, though you may know it to be incorrect, it is true in the world they live in.
My mother in law used to constantly tell people she lived in Louisiana, even though it had been years since she lived there. She would also tell people we had just come back from a wonderful trip to New Orleans or San Antonio when in fact we had gone to the mall.
My husband was constantly correcting her. It upset her greatly and my husband would be frustrated. I kept telling him to just “go with the flow”.
Finally, one day she was telling one of her wild stories and I could see my husband getting ready to correct her so I reached over and touched him gently on the leg and said, “Just Go with the flow”. He smiled, looked at his mom and said, “Well it sounds like you had a great time on your trip.” To which she replied, “Oh I did!” That day all was well in Dementia Land.
Our mantra quickly became, “Go With The Flow!”