If you have a loved one with Alzheimer’s, you may have noticed that certain times of day can be more challenging than others. Many people with this condition tend to have a more difficult time in the late afternoon and early evenings, which is called “sundowning.” But what is sundowning, and how can you help your loved one cope with it?
What Is Sundowning?
One of the most critical aspects of helping a loved one with Alzheimer’s is understanding how the condition affects their day-to-day lives. If you’re a caretaker for someone with one of these conditions, you may have noticed that late afternoons and early evenings can be difficult for them. They may seem easily confused, restless, or irritable. This restlessness may persist well into the evening, interfering with sleep and hygiene routines. This symptom of Alzheimer’s is known as “sundowning.” Understanding it can help make life easier for yourself and your loved one.
Why Does Sundowning Happen?
Unfortunately, we don’t have a good idea of why sundowning occurs. However, what we know about it can help reduce its effects. Potential causes for sundowning are mostly related to biological changes caused by Alzheimer’s, as well as how the disease affects a senior’s ability to communicate:
- Confused sleep schedules or alterations to circadian rhythm
- Unmet needs that are difficult to share, such as thirst or exhaustion
- Pain, boredom, or other sources of discomfort
Sundowning doesn’t necessarily occur every day, and it will not happen the same way every time, but you can keep an eye out for it if you know what to look for. Signs of sundowning include pacing, wandering around, or acting agitatedly. If this occurs in the late afternoon or early evening, sundowning is the likely cause.
What Can I Do About It?
While we aren’t sure where exactly sundowning comes from, we have learned a lot about how to help people who are living with it. You can help your senior loved one cope with a mix of compassion, care, and a good routine:
- If your senior loved one is agitated, focus first on calming them down. Be sure to give them time and space to communicate what is agitating them, and listen calmly and empathetically. Take time to explain that everything is okay and that you’re there to help. You may not be able to address their concern directly, but you can help them understand that they are safe.
- Sometimes a distraction can help a sundowning senior break out of their feelings of agitation and restlessness. Offer a favorite snack or a familiar comfort like a beloved sitcom they can watch and enjoy.
- Being too tired, or having a disrupted sleep schedule, is a guaranteed way to make sundowning worse. Try to help your loved one stick to an established sleep schedule, and if possible, limit naps to earlier in the day. Encourage your loved one to avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks. Exposure to sunlight can also help your body regulate its internal clock, so consider daily walks or just sitting in the sunshine for a few moments with your loved one when you get the chance.
Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s can be challenging. If you’re looking for resources that can help, reach out to the experts. And if your loved one would benefit from a higher level of care, consider contacting our Memory Care community for more information.
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