Senior man in pajamas sitting outside house at night

As the sun begins to set, most of us can relax after a long day and plan for a quiet evening to unwind – unless of course you’re providing care for a loved one with dementia. Sundowning, or sundown syndrome, is a frequent occurrence in Alzheimer’s disease along with other types of dementia, and can result in restless, sleepless nights of anxiety, disorientation, confusion, and agitation – for several hours as the sun sets, or even for the whole night.

The actual cause behind sundowning behaviors isn’t fully understood, but contributing factors can include:

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

Try these guidelines to help prevent or minimize the effects of sundowning with Alzheimer’s:

  • Before the sun sets, close drapes and pull down window shades, so the senior can’t notice the darkening sky – and, make certain there is plenty of light throughout the home.
  • Try to organize the senior’s day to include lots of activity and discourage afternoon napping.
  • Switch to calming, soothing activities at the end of the day. Turn off the television, play peaceful music, and offer 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.
  • Consult with the senior’s doctor for advice and 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 suggest a medication to help the senior relax in the evening.

If, in spite of these tactics, your loved one is still agitated and staying awake during the nighttime hours, there are a number of steps you can take to help. First, remain calm and avoid arguing or getting into drawn-out conversations. Simply offer reassurance that your senior loved one is safe and everything is all right. See if there’s anything the senior needs, and after addressing any specific concerns, gently point out the time to the senior, and suggest getting some rest. Your senior loved one might also feel more comfortable in a new sleeping environment, such as in a favorite chair or guest bedroom, making use of nightlights or other indirect, soft lighting.

The skilled and experienced dementia and home care specialists in Concord, NH at Live Free Home Health Care offer a great solution to sundowning or other challenging behaviors. We’re available to take the night shift and help older adults participate in calming and enjoyable activities when sleep eludes them, enabling family caregivers the opportunity to get the rest they need. We even offer around-the-clock, live-in care to make certain older adults are safe and well cared for any time of day.

Reach out to our home care specialists in Concord, NH at 603-217-0149 any time and let us put together a customized plan of care to meet your particular needs, and improve quality of life for an older adult you love. To learn about all of the communities where we provide care, please visit our Service Area page.