Dementia Information for Chapel Hill: What is Sundowning?

August 16, 2016

Caregivers that care for a person with dementia often notice that in the afternoon and evening their family member may show signs of confusion and agitation. This is referred to as sundowning and occurs in people with mid to late stage dementia. This time of day patients may experience an increase in agitation, confusion, and their anxiety levels may rise. It is not understood why this may happen exactly, but the medical community seems to think that fatigue or a disruption in the body’s internal clock may play a role. There are tips to help manage this.

Stay on Schedule. Try to follow a schedule and maintain it. Sticking to a routine helps to reduce sundowning. Avoid unfamiliar circumstances that can create anxiety.

Work to Encourage a Good Night’s Sleep. People with dementia do better with a full night’s sleep. Long daytime naps, eating too much sugar or drinking too much caffeine after lunch or not getting enough sunshine and activity during the day can all play a role in sundowning.

Observe Dietary Effects. Some people may show strong reactions to certain foods or things in their diet. Keep a food diary and observe the subsequent moods and behaviors to help identify foods that may cause sundowning.

Use Lighting. Many believe that lighting plays a key role in sundowning. Try turning on lights in the house as the evening progresses and keep things brightly lit. As bedtime draws near, slowly reduce the lighting which will help transition to sleep and bedtime.

Limit Evening Stimulation. Reduce noises and stimulating activities in the evening. Turn off the television and put on soft music or play recordings of natural sounds like waves on the shore or rain sounds.
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