Senior man in pajamas sitting outside house at night

As the sun starts to set, the majority of us can relax after a long day and prepare for a peaceful evening to unwind – unless of course you are providing care for a loved one with dementia. Sundowning, or sundown syndrome, is a frequent occurrence in Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia, and can bring about restless, sleepless nights of anxiety, disorientation, confusion, and agitation – for anywhere from a couple of hours as the sun sets to even the whole night.

The precise cause behind sundowning behaviors is not fully understood, but contributing factors can include:

  • A disruption in the older adult’s internal body clock
  • A need for less sleep
  • Medication side effects
  • The lack of ability to distinguish real life from dreams, leading to disorientation
  • Physical and/or mental exhaustion and fatigue from a difficult day

Try these tips to help prevent or minimize the symptoms of sundowning:

  • Prior to the sun setting, close drapes and pull down window shades, so that the senior can’t notice the darkening sky – and, make sure there is an abundance of light throughout the home.
  • Try to organize the older adult’s day to include lots of activity and deter afternoon napping.
  • Switch to calming, soothing activities towards the end of the day. Turn off the TV, play quiet music, and give your loved one a cup of warm herbal tea or milk.
  • Take note of the senior’s eating habits throughout the day, limiting caffeine and sweets to the morning hours and serving an earlier dinner.
  • Speak with the senior’s physician for advice to confirm there are not any underlying physical conditions contributing to the problem, such as incontinence or other bladder issues or anything causing physical pain. The physician may recommend a medication to help the senior relax in the evening.

If, in spite of these tactics, your senior loved one is agitated and staying awake during the nighttime hours, there are several actions you can take to help. First of all, remain calm and steer clear of arguing or getting into lengthy conversations. Simply provide reassurance that your loved one is safe and everything is all right. Identify if there is something your senior loved one needs, and after taking care of any particular concerns, delicately point out the time to your senior loved, and propose getting some sleep. The senior might also feel more comfortable in an alternate sleeping environment, such as in a favorite chair or guest bedroom, making use of nightlights or other soft, indirect lighting.

As expert providers of home care in Ballwin and surrounding communities, the highly trained and experienced dementia care experts at Compassionate Nursing Services offer a great solution to sundowning or any other challenging behaviors. We’re available to take the night shift and help older adults take part in comforting and enjoyable activities when sleep eludes them, allowing family caregivers the chance to get the rest they need. We even provide around-the-clock, live-in care to make sure seniors are safe and well taken care of any time of day.

Contact us at 314-432-4312 any time and let us put together a customized care plan to meet your specific needs, and improve quality of life for an older adult you love. To learn more about the communities we serve, please visit our Service Area page.