What is Sundown Syndrome?

    Known by many names – sundowning, Sundowner’s syndrome or Sundown Syndrome - this common Alzheimer’s behavior is also one of the most challenging for family caregivers. As the sun begins to set, agitation and restlessness rise. It may make keeping up with a loved one even more exhausting than usual because it typically begins at the end of the long day for a busy caregiver.

How Prevalent is Sundown Syndrome? 

Estimates are that about 20 – 25% of those living with Alzheimer’s disease experience sundowning at some point.

What Causes Sundowning?

There are many theories about what causes Sundowner’s syndrome, but they are largely just theories. The definitive cause remains a mystery. Some researchers believe it is an accumulation of overstimulation and stress from the day. Others suggest it is a hormonal imbalance. Then there are those who believe it may actually be anxiety caused by a fear of the dark resulting from the damage Alzheimer’s does to the brain.

How Can Caregivers Manage Sundowning?

Colorado Geriatric Care Manager, Kirsten Hartman offers exhausted family members the following suggestions: 

* Limit food and drink intake that is high in caffeine and sugar. If they are insistent on sugary treats, limit them to the early part of the day.

* Monitor the noise level in their environment, especially in the latter half of the day. This may help avoid overstimulation and agitation. 

* Try to schedule appointments and outings in the morning hours.

* Keep evening activities limited. A peaceful walk around the neighborhood or listening to calming music may help to keep anxiety at bay. 

* Pull the blinds down and close the curtains before the sun begins to set. Turn on all of the lights. If their anxiety is triggered by a fear of the dark, it may help.

* Speak in a low voice and try to remain calm when you communicate with your loved one. That can help prevent their agitation from escalating.

    One last piece of advice for families is to make sure your loved one’s primary care physician or their neurologist is aware that they struggle with sundowning. The syndrome can sometimes be made worse by medications, bladder infections or other physical problems that can be addressed.

Does your loved one have Sundowner’s syndrome? What helps you cope?

    From personal care needs and case management to guardianship concerns, Seniors in Transition provides consulting services to help families turn frustrating health care problems into quality, affordable solutions. Seniors in Transition is here to help families in the Fort Collins, CO and Loveland, CO areas. Visit our website at www.seniorsintrans.com or call 970.204.6977,  today.

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