What Is Sundowning?

by | Oct 15, 2020 | Alzheimer's Disease, Anxiety, Dementia, Dementia Behaviors


Dementia comes in many forms, with many side effects and triggers. Some include mood swings, sudden clarity, disruptive behavior, and more. There are certain events or occasions that can trigger theses, as well. A common complaint from caregivers is dealing with sundowning.

Sundowning Happens When The Sun Goes Down

It could be bath time, a visit to the doctor, certain smells, or even a type of food. Perhaps you have noticed a change in mood or behavior occurring at a certain time of day.


This is known as sundowners syndrome. Also called sundowning, it involves a certain pattern of behavior changes. These could include sadness, agitation, fear, delusions, or hallucinations.


And these behaviors come on in dementia patients in the late afternoon, evening, or at night. Thus the name sundowning. This increase of confusion distressing for both patients and caregivers.


Sundowning Symptoms and Behavior

sundowning and confusion


There is any number of behaviors that can come about when someone is sundowning. They may get confused or angry. Or perhaps, they might ask the same question several times. This can be hard for the caregiver. They may feel like a broken record answering the same question over and over.


Additionally, they may start following their caregiver. Or they may try to get out for an appointment they think they have. They may want to go somewhere that no longer exists.


Crying and depression are common. As are paranoia, hiding their items or delusions.


They might think they hear or see things that are not there.


Also, watch for pacing, rocking, restlessness, even violence. Crying and screaming, stubbornness, and shadowing are also common.


Sundown syndrome usually starts in the late afternoon and lasts for several hours. It can be difficult to time these episodes, as they can vary from each day and from each patient.


Furthermore, sundowning can be worsened by the fact that they will have a hard time getting enough sleep, That will go for the caregiver, as well. Sleep is very important for the person with dementia and the person caring for them.


Causes and Care of Sundowning


Research continues to discover why people sundown. There are theories it comes from over-stimulation, and when the light changes, all the stimulants crash in. The evening is a natural time for most of us to relax. For someone with dementia, it can come in the form of sundowning.


It may come from their desire for something, a drink, pain relief, or frustration of some kind. Other thoughts are that people may have trouble seeing in the dark.


Caring for a Sundowner

Moving Mom To Memory Care


Caring for someone with dementia is already very trying. Adding in bouts of erratic behavior can make these situations nearly impossible. Reasoning with them will not work. You will need to be very patient.


It’s important to consider their safety first. If they seem like they are going to get violent, throw something, or cause damage, protect them.


Remain calm and don’t raise your voice or get angry. Don’t grab at them or touch them in a way that will alarm them.


Keep track of when they are triggered and see if there is a pattern emerging. Certain times, people, odors, or sounds can also bring it on. This can help greatly be better prepared and even limit their sundowning.


Don’t try to reason with them or ask for an explanation. They won’t understand it themselves.


Keep the room well lit and close the curtain or blinds to the outside. If there is a certain darkness that seems to trigger them, do it beforehand.


Try to get them to a safe, quiet area, ideally, before it starts to happen. If you can take them to their room or a quiet area, they won’t disturb others.


Validate whatever it is that they are experiencing and try to calm them down. Reassure them that whatever they are upset about is alright.


Try to keep them on a regular routine. This includes activities they enjoy, exercise, and regular mealtime. Try to give their evening meal early. If they can eat before the sun actually sets, it may stave off the outbreaks.


Watch what they eat. Keep an eye on caffeine, sugar, and other junk foods.


Use light or music therapy to help ease anxiety or triggers for sundowning. Keeping the light at the same level may help with their episodes.


Use nightlights in their room. Make sure they are bright enough for them to make out shapes in the room that may seem menacing.


Keep their rooms safe and free of things that can injure them or others.


Seek Professional Help 

Help for Sundowning

If you are trying to cope with your loved one’s dementia at home, you should consider getting help. If not help that comes into the home, consider a memory loss care center.


They have the means and help to make sure that the sundowning episodes are contained. You can’t always be sure that you will be able to handle their episodes.


Dementia is a difficult disease already. Made worse by sundowning, it is harder on all of you. The carer and the patient. Get help when you need it.

Their best hope for a comfortable life with dementia is in the care of professionals.

Memory care homes have trained and experienced staff to take care of all their needs. Get the peace of mind for the entire family when you trust your loved one to a memory care home.

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!  Come for a tour at Sycamore Creek Ranch! See how we can help!






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