Some seniors with Alzheimer’s experience “sundowning,” which the Alzheimer’s Association defines as “increases in behavioral problems that begin at dusk and last into the night.”
According to Mayo Clinic, the symptoms of sundowning include confusion, anxiety, aggression, ignoring directions, pacing or wandering. Additional symptoms noted by experts include crying, depression, paranoia and shadowing (following you from room to room). The symptoms and their severity, however, vary from person to person.
Is it Sundowning?
Many of the above symptoms characterize Alzheimer’s disease in general. How do you know, then, if they indicate sundowning? The best way to determine this is to keep track of the occurrences. If your loved one is displaying the same extreme behaviors around the same time each day, typically when the sun goes down, then it is likely that he or she is experiencing sundowning.
Causes of Sundowning
Theories abound on the causes of sundowning. Among the suggested causes are exhaustion, hormonal imbalances, disturbances in sleep/wake patterns, decreasing daylight (particularly in winter), an inability to distinguish reality from dreams, and reactions to the sense of frustration conveyed by caregivers at the end of a long day.
Another possible contributing factor is that evening is a period many seniors may have grown accustomed to experiencing as busy times, filled with obligations. Children came home from school, spouses returned from work, meals were being prepared and served. Sundowning may even be prompted by more straightforward causes; perhaps the senior has an unmet need that he or she cannot express. Such needs might include a visit to the bathroom, a snack, a glass of water, or the alleviation of pain.
Managing Sundowning Symptoms
There are effective methods of managing sundowning symptoms. Take the scenario of an unexpressed need, for instance. In such cases, the caregiver may be able to figure out exactly what that need is and redirect the behavior accordingly.
If this approach does not work for you, do not give up. There are many more promising techniques you can try. Click here for some suggestions. They may require some trial and error, but it is feasible to achieve success.
You may also wish to consider support groups for caregivers who are coping with a loved one’s Alzheimer’s, including problems relating to sundowning. Our Place Memory Café is an example of a helpful support network. Its get-togethers are designed for people suffering from dementia and their caregivers. For the caregivers, it can be both valuable and comforting to meet and share experiences with others in similar situations.