Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Living with Dementia: What is Sundown Syndrome?

Dementia can change the way that not only seniors, but their family, live. It means planning ahead and taking more care in communicating and interacting. Some families may notice that their loved one tends to get more agitated or disoriented in the evening than during other times of the day. This is a condition that is often referred to as sundown or sundowner syndrome. Sometimes it is called sundowning. As the name implies, it generally occurs around the time the sun goes down and there is less light.

Not everyone with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease experiences sundown syndrome and doctors aren’t entirely sure yet what causes it. It can even occur in those without these conditions. They believe it has to do with the body’s circadian rhythm. Those with dementia or Alzheimer’s may have a shift in their internal clock that contributes to these changes in mood and behavior. Environmental and social factors may play a part as well.

Symptoms of sundown syndrome include:

  • Confusion
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Pacing
  • Disorientation
  • Yelling
  • Mood swings
  • Restlessness

These symptoms may be triggered by too much activity during the day or changes in routine, fatigue, decreased light, hunger or thirst, or sleep problems. It can vary from person to person, but generally these symptoms become more noticeable in the late afternoon or evening hours.

Coping with Sundown Syndrome

Because it is not well known what causes the condition, methods of treating or preventing it are not as clear cut either. Seniors may respond differently to various approaches. Finding what works best for your loved one is key. You may have to try several things.

  • Keeping a routine: Try to stick to a similar schedule each day. This includes wake and sleep times, meal times, and regular activities. Plan for more rigorous activities in the morning when your loved one is feeling better and more alert. Avoid naps during the day as this can contribute to sleep problems at night. A routine also helps to reduce confusion because your aging parent knows what to expect.
  • Increasing light: Make the most of available light and keep rooms well lit in the evening hours. Night lights can help if they need to get up in the middle of the night. With more light, it can make navigating easier and help curb vision issues.
  • Eating a well-balanced diet: Getting the proper amount of vitamins and nutrients as well as keeping stable blood sugar levels can support better health. This can help to reduce imbalances in the body and moderate mood. Avoid too much caffeine as well because it is a stimulant
  • Create a quiet environment: Especially at night, try to reduce the amount of noise and activity that occurs. Encouraging relaxation and calmness at night can reduce agitation and irritability.

Having an in-home caregiver during these peak hours can make it easier for your senior to cope. The caregiver can maintain their regular routine, ensure they’re eating properly, and provide companionship and a reassuring presence. This can make evenings less stressful and more comfortable. Always Best Care of Asheville-Hendersonville provides dementia care to assist your loved one in maintaining their independence in a safe and enjoyable way. Contact us at (828) 989-7263 or visit us online to find out more about how we can help.

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