Have you ever noticed when the sun goes down, your loved one’s demeanor changes? They may become more forgetful, confused, agitated, or restless. If this is the case, they may be suffering from sundown syndrome.
What is Sundown Syndrome?
Just as the name entails, sundown syndrome affects seniors usually after “sundown.” They can experience the symptoms described above along with delirium and anxiousness. Seniors may also yell, pace, experience mood swings, or hear/see things that are not really there, according to WebMD.
Although there isn’t a scientific cause as to why “sundowning” happens, WebMD notes that some scientists believe that the changes that occur in the brain of someone with dementia, can affect their “body clock.” In people with Alzheimer’s, the part of the brain that triggers when we are awake or asleep breaks down, WebMD says. Therefore, if you have Alzheimer’s or dementia, you are more likely to get “sundown syndrome.”
Others believe the condition may be due to sensory stimulation that occurs during a daily routine, which may overwhelm and cause stress to seniors by the end of the day. Whereas, Medical News Today notes that other causes can be due to common daily activities that can become exhausting for people with dementia, thus making them feel delirious as the evening comes.
With no proven medical reason, it is hard to pinpoint the real reason why seniors develop the syndrome but having scientists pose their reasons can ease up the anxiety of the unknown a bit.
How Can I Help with Sundowners Syndrome?
If you are a caregiver or simply tending to your loved one, there are some ways you can make the symptoms less severe.
Do your best to make a set schedule for your loved one. This can help reduce confusion in them. Make a regular wake up and bedtime and ensure they eat meals at the same time every day.
Staying active with your loved one during the day can be beneficial in reducing their restlessness at night. Also, try to discourage day time naps and instead reinforce physical activity, such as walking around the block.
A healthy diet is important in any aspect of life, but making sure your loved one is eating fruits and vegetables and an all together well-rounded diet can help with the syndrome. According to Healthline, large meals, alcohol, and caffeine can increase agitation and keep them up at night. The article also notes that limiting food around evening time to a healthy or light meal may help in allowing seniors to rest more easily at night.
Sometimes a medical condition or ailment may be the cause of your loved one’s agitation and confusion. When you start to notice a change in their manner or behavior, seek an examination from a doctor to see if an infection, pain, or bladder problems could be the source of their discomfort resulting in “sundowning.”
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and “sundowning” have been linked together, causing the syndrome to worsen during certain times of the year. Light therapy and exposure to natural light, integrated with exercise can help reduce symptoms.
Conducive Sleeping Environment
Comfortability and familiarity are essential to helping your loved one cope when they are experiencing “sundowning,” especially when in a sleeping environment. To increase familiarity, keep the room lit partially to help minimize confusion if your loved one wakes up in the middle of the night. Also, do not argue with them if they decide they don’t want to sleep in their bed. Allow them to sleep wherever they find comfortable (i.e. their favorite chair or couch).
To ensure your loved one’s safety at all times, plug-in night lights and put locks on doors and windows. If your loved one has stairs in their house, place a gate at the bottom or top of the stairs to block them from attempting to climb up or down the stairs during the night.
If you want to take an extra precaution, place a baby monitor or motion detector in your loved one’s home so you know when they are up and moving and can keep an eye on them when you’re not there.
How to React When Your Loved One is Experiencing “Sundowning”
It can be hard to not get frustrated with your loved one when they become agitated, confused, or any of the other symptoms. But for your sake and theirs, do your best to remain calm.
Let your loved one know you’re there for them and that everything is ok. The best thing you can do for them during this time is to reassure them and help them with whatever they need.
How to Take Care of Yourself
Don’t feel bad if you get tired or exhausted from taking care of your loved one. It is a demanding task, and you have to remember to take care of yourself as well. If you need a break, ask for a relative or friend to take your place at night. Also, try to get a nap during the day or try to take breaks whenever you get the chance. You can also hire home care to help too.
“Sundown Syndrome” is hard not only for the person affected by it but also for those around them. But with numerous ways you can help your loved one’s symptoms and take time for yourself, it can make the syndrome less draining.
Melissa Andrews is the Content Marketing Strategist for Paradise Living Centers, an assisted living center for seniors with locations in Paradise Valley and Phoenix, Arizona. In her spare time, she enjoys cooking and going on hiking trips with her siblings and cousins.
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