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Dementia and Sundowning: How To Manage The Signs & Symptoms

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Have you spent an early evening with a loved one who has dementia and noticed a real change in their mood and behaviour? Don’t panic, this is actually incredibly common, with an estimated one in five people living with dementia experiencing these symptoms.

It is commonly referred to as sundowning.

What is Sundowning?

Sundowning is a term used to describe the changes in behaviour that occur in the evening. Often people who have been diagnosed with dementia experience a growing sense of agitation or anxiety at this time.

The symptoms might include a compelling sense that they are in the wrong place. The individual might state that they need to urgently leave and return home, even if they’re already there; or that they need to urgently do something, like pick the children up, even if that isn’t really the case. Other symptoms can include shouting, arguing, anxiety and general confusion about what is going on around them.

Sundowning, or “late-day confusion” as it’s known, is normally a symptom more associated with Alzheimer’s disease, as well as other forms of dementia.

Why Does It Occur?

There are lots of different reasons as to why sundowning occurs. As the day goes on, loved ones can become tired, worsening their symptoms. Other factors such as hunger, thirst or even physical pain can also play a part.

Can You Do Anything To Manage It?

Your loved one is most likely to experience sundowning if they have mid to advanced stage dementia. Here are some steps you can take to help reduce and manage the symptoms of sundowning:

Stick to a daily routine

Where possible, try and stick to the same routine every day. This can help your loved one feel more calm and collected. Avoid making any drastic changes to this routine. Your loved one might react badly to unfamiliar places and things. This can cause feelings of stress, anger and confusion all of which play a large role in sundowning.

Create the right lighting

Your loved one might experience sundowning as the result of changes in their sleep-wake cycles. Adjusting the light in their home might help reduce their symptoms.

Additionally, you could close the curtains and turn the lights on before dusk. This will help them transition into nighttime much easier. If possible, cover mirrors or glass doors. Reflections can be confusing for someone with dementia.

Exercise

Too much daytime sleep and inactivity can make it harder for your loved one to get a good night’s sleep. Many people who experience sundowning tend to struggle with sleep.

To help promote a good night’s rest, try to help your loved one stay active throughout the day. For example, you could go for a walk. This can help improve their sleep quality and reduce the symptoms of sundowning.

Good eating pattern

Ensuring that your loved one’s eating pattern is correct can help reduce some of the symptoms of sundowning. Large, heavy meals late at night increase their agitation and can keep them up at night.

Evening routine

If needed, you could also try and introduce an evening specific routine with activities that your loved one enjoys. This could include watching their favourite programme together or stroking a pet etc.

Try to make this routine as calm and quiet as possible – sudden loud noises and shouting can be enormously distressing for a person with dementia.

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