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Understanding Sundowner’s Syndrome

Understanding Sundowner’s Syndrome

Winter can be a tough time of year for people who live with Alzheimer’s disease. Winter weather often means seniors and their caregivers are stuck inside and unable to take a daily walk. The shorter days of the year are also linked to an increase in “sundowning.”
Sundowner’s Syndrome is when an adult with Alzheimer’s disease becomes increasingly disoriented and agitated as the sun sets. For caregivers, it can be tough behavior to manage. It affects about 20% of people with Alzheimer’s and generally is at its worst during the middle stages of the disease.

Know the Signs of Alzheimer’s Sundowning
While suffering an episode of sundowning, a senior may wander, be unable to sleep, pace around the house, or become angry and aggressive. These symptoms can be challenging to deal with and put additional stress on family caregivers. Because of this, sundown syndrome is one of the leading causes of caregiver burnout.
Other symptoms of Sundowner’s Syndrome include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Disorientation to time and place
  • Agitation

Common Sundowning Triggers
Alzheimer’s experts have identified several factors they believe may trigger sundowning behaviors:

  • A disruption in the sleep-wake cycle causes days and nights to be confused
  • Lack of natural sunlight during grey winter months can throw the body’s circadian rhythm off
  • Overstimulation that leads to end-of-day fatigue and exhaustion
  • Age-related problems sleeping

5 Steps for Managing Sundowning Behavior this Winter
There are steps family caregivers can take that may help minimize sundowning during the long, dark days of winter. They include:

  1. Adopt a healthy diet. Cutting back on sugar may help balance blood sugar and keep an adult with Alzheimer’s on a more even keel. Avoiding caffeine, especially later in the day, can also decrease fatigue and promote better sleep.
  2. Concentrate activity early in the day. Plan to run errands, exercise and schedule appointments for the early part of the day. It can help keep your senior loved one from getting overly tired as evening—the peak time for sundowning –approaches. Also try to prevent a senior with Alzheimer’s from napping later in the afternoon or limit late day naps to 15 or 20 minutes.
  3. Maintain a calm environment. Limiting distractions such as a loud television or radio, kids running in and out, and late day visitors can help promote a positive, calming environment for a loved one with Alzheimer’s.
  4. Stick to a routine. For adults with Alzheimer’s disease, a routine schedule can provide safety and security. Try to create a structured day that you stick with. That includes waking up and going to bed at the same times each day, as well as standard times for meals, exercise and activity.
  5. Talk with your physician. Finally, don’t overlook the idea that your aging loved one may have an undiagnosed health problem that is contributing to this difficult behavior. Talk with their physician to see if it could be linked to an infection, medication side effect or another medical problem.

Handling tough behaviors that Alzheimer’s often creates is exhausting for family caregivers. If you feel like you need a short-term respite, we encourage you to contact the Five Star Senior Living nearest you. Our caring team will be happy to schedule an in-person visit at your convenience.

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