Living with Dementia: What is Sundowning?
The Centers for Disease control estimate that about 5.8 million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer’s disease or related forms of dementia. These conditions cause a range of symptoms from memory loss to confusion to agitation, and while the phenomenon is not well understood, these symptoms seem to get worse beginning at dusk and lasting through the night. This is known as “sundowning,” and during the holiday season, families may notice these types of symptoms in their senior loved ones. At Summerset Senior Living, we specialize in memory care for seniors living with dementia, and we would like to share some information with you about sundowning, the factors that may contribute to it, and what you can do if you notice a loved one is sundowning.
Factors That Contribute to Sundowning
While people living with dementia may not always experience severe symptoms, the holiday season presents a number of situations that can contribute to sundowning and make dementia symptoms worse. Here are some examples of situations that can worsen dementia symptoms:
- Mental and physical exhaustion
- Unfamiliar or confusing environments
- Interrupted sleep schedule
- Reduced lighting
- Stress or frustration
As you can see, some or all of these conditions may be present during the holiday season, so be aware of them and pay attention to your senior loved one’s behavior so you can intervene if they start to sundown.
Creating a Welcoming Environment for Seniors Living with Dementia
The holiday season can be a perfect storm for a person who is living with dementia, but you and your family can work together to create an environment that will reduce feelings of confusion or aggravation. You may want to schedule your big meals earlier in the day, when the sun is still up so it will be easier for your loved one to put their best face forward. Taking a short walk outside after these early meals can also allow them to get more sunlight and reduce confusion. As the day goes on, it’s a good idea to reduce stimuli in the environment. You may want to put on some soothing music or one of your loved one’s favorite films as the sun begins to set. If an argument or high stress situation comes up, you may want to take your loved one to another room where they won’t have to see it. In addition, be respectful of your loved one’s sleep schedule during multi-day affairs; try to avoid making noise in the morning or at night so they can get the sleep they need.
What to Do if You Notice a Loved One is Sundowning
Sometimes, dementia symptoms can worsen despite your best efforts. In these cases, it’s important not to make the situation worse. Approach your loved one in a calm manner and encourage them to move into a less chaotic environment. Never physically restrain a person who is sundowning; supervise them and allow them to pace back and forth if that is what they want to do. Reassure them that everything is ok and there is no need to be upset. They may calm down after a period of reduced stimulation, at which point you can help them to bed.
As dementia symptoms become worse over time, it may be necessary to get your loved one some skilled care or consider helping them transition to a senior living community with memory care options. If you are caring for a loved one who has memory loss in the Rancho Cordova/Gold River, CA area, Summerset Senior Living conducts a weekly memory loss support group every Thursday at 3:30 pm. You can sign up by calling (916) 620-8622. Our team is here to help you; come to us with your questions or to discuss memory care options for your loved one.