Senior woman sitting on her bed in morning, stretching with arms raised

As a caregiver to someone with Alzheimer’s, you may have noticed changes in their personality in the late afternoon or early evening. These changes could be because of sundowning. According to AARP, roughly 20% of people with Alzheimer’s experience sundowning, which is also referred to as sundown syndrome and sundowners. The changes in seniors experiencing sundowning can be daunting for both the senior and the caregiver, but there are ways to help.

Some of the changes you may see include:

  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Sadness
  • Restlessness
  • Energy surges
  • Increased confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions

These can even lead to things like pacing, crying, and even screaming at times. For some people, sundowning episodes subside relatively quickly, but for others, they can last for hours, which can even start to affect their sleeping routines.

Although there is no one definitive cause of sundowning, there are some theories that researchers believe can cause the episodes. One major theory is that sundowning could be related to how the light changes at the end of the day. As the light of day dims, people with Alzheimer’s can get the impression that they need to change what they’re doing at that point or “go home.” They can also feel more extreme triggers internally such as hunger, fatigue, or hormonal fluctuations. In the worst scenarios, the darkness can even make them feel fearful or unsafe.

Fortunately, there are some things you can do to manage sundowning symptoms.

Notice and avoid triggers

Pay attention to when the person you’re caring for starts to show signs of things that can spark sundowning, such as fatigue. Some activities you used to do with them at that time could now be causing them to be overwhelmed or exhausted. Take note of stimuli around their environment they start to react badly to, and minimize them as much as possible.

Establish a daily routine

Keeping the person you care for active during the day and even limiting their naps throughout the day can help them establish a reasonable bed time to help avoid either staying up past the time that they usually experience sundowning symptoms or allowing sundowning to disrupt their sleeping schedule. Make sure that the daily routines also limit how much they have to do during the late afternoon and the evening.

Simplify the surroundings and adjust the sleep environment

Along with the changing daylight, other stimuli can cause feelings of anxiety and confusion that may make sundowning more severe. Limiting visual, auditory, and physical stimuli can help ease those feelings and make their environment a bit more calm and comfortable.

Validate and distract

Attempting to reason with someone who is experiencing symptoms of sundowning is usually futile and creates more issues than it solves. It’s often more helpful to go along  with what the person is feeling so that they aren’t thrown into more confusion. You can even act as a guide by distracting them from troubling thoughts that may be making their sundowning more anxiety-inducing.

Adjust light exposure

Some researchers believe that our internal clocks are heavily influenced by light. In that way, certain light intensity or dimness can change things within a person that influences sundowning. It can be helpful to supplement the lack of daylight with extra lights around the house that limit the perceptions of darkness outside.

You could also hire a home care agency like Aware Senior Care, a division of Home Care Assistance, for care help in Raleigh or the surrounding areas. Our expert caregivers are able to customize our services to every individual so that we can accommodate behaviors like sundowning. We even offer overnight care, that can be particularly helpful with sundowning. If you or a loved one could use our help, contact us online, or call us at (919) 436-1871.