Sundown Syndrome in the Elderly
During the past two decades, the medical and scientific communities have made great strides in understanding the complexities of Alzheimer’s disease. One area of the illness that is still being studied with great concern is the phenomenon of what is called Sundowning.
What is Sundowning?
Sundowning occurs when a person with dementia or Alzheimer’s experiences a significant change in mood, behavior, or personality during the late afternoon or early evening of each day. There is not much known yet about this condition, which affects about 20% of seniors living with dementia or Alzheimer’s.
Sundowning & Dementia
Leading scientists believe that Sundowning is caused by neurochemical changes in the brain that affect its biological clock, causing the section of the brain that differentiates day from night to erode. There can be a noticeable difference in dementia patients’ cognitive abilities as daylight disappears at the end of every day.
What are the Symptoms of Sundowning?
In the initial stages of Sundowning disease, personality and memory changes are often hard to distinguish. However, as the condition worsens, symptoms become much more noticeable. Here are some of the most common symptoms of Sundowning that family members or care givers can watch for in an older adult.
- Inability to Control Emotions
- Bursts of Crying
- Extreme Irritability
- Delusional Behavior
- Pacing or Wandering Around
- Hiding Common Objects from View
Because each individual’s situation is unique, older adults with Sundowning disease will exhibit some or all of these symptoms in varying degrees.
How to Manage Sundowning Disease
If you have a loved one who is living with Sundowning disease, it is critical to understand all you can about the illness and its causes in order to be as helpful as possible. The first thing to evaluate with your senior is whether they are actually experiencing Sundowning or a condition called Delirium. People with Delirium also exhibit very similar symptoms to those with Sundowning disease.
A key indicator however is the timing of such behaviors. If you notice that your loved one is consistently displaying symptoms in the late afternoon or early evening, but not during the day, chances are that the condition present is Sundowning.
There are a number of great strategies that care givers and loved ones can follow to effectively manage the symptoms of Sundowning.
- Stay Calm – Try to not let your own anxiety about the situation increase the intensity of the atmosphere surrounding you. By remaining calm, you are in the best position to help the older person get through the experience.
- Ask How you can Help – Refrain from becoming irritated and ask the person how you can help them at that moment. Don’t ask them to explain or make sense out of anything they are experiencing, as probing questions will make the situation more difficult.
- Safety– Make sure the person going through the Sundowning is physically safe, so they do not become injured. Also, do all you can to calmly assure them that everything will be ok.
- Encourage Structure– By keeping the person with Sundowning busy throughout the day, you will be establishing a structure which will greatly increase their sense of calm and well-being. Also, by keeping an established schedule, you will help the affected person more easily tire by evening time, which will encourage a better quality of sleep.
- Speak with a Doctor – There are medications available that can help with some of the symptoms and effects of Sundowning. Other non-medicinal remedies are also effective, such as playing soft music and aroma therapy.
Supporting a Loved One with Sundowning Disease
When a loved one is living with dementia or Alzheimer’s, the phenomena of Sundowning can be a scary experience for not only them, but also the whole family. By learning all you can about it and utilizing proven strategies to help a senior get through the symptoms of the illness each day, you will be providing the support that they need.
The highly knowledgeable team at Frontier Management has many years of experience with helping families cope with dementia, Alzheimer’s and Sundowning. If we can be of any assistance, we invite you to visit one of our beautiful properties, take a tour and speak with our friendly and experienced staff.