5 Tips to Help a Senior with Sundowners Syndrome

What is Sundowners Syndrome?

“Sundowners Syndrome”, “Sundowning”, and other similar terms are used to describe a collection of symptoms tied to the common agitation in people with dementia during the evening or night time hours. Sundowners is described as intense confusion, agitation, or anxiety in elderly people as day transitions into night. It can also express itself as restlessness at night or a drastic shift in a person’s sleep schedule. Many people with a disturbed, Sundowners sleep schedule will switch AM hours with PM hours and sleep all day but be wide awake at night. This can cause a great deal of stress and confusion for those who care for a person with Sundowners Syndrome.

While many caregivers and medical professionals use the term Sundowners to refer to this night time agitation, it is not a recognized diagnosis. Because of this Sundowners Syndrome is controversial in senior care. Some medical professionals feel that if the umbrella term of “Sundowners Syndrome” is used to dismiss certain Alzheimer’s behaviors, a more detrimental issue could go unaddressed.

What it ultimately boils down to is this, Sundowners Syndrome describes a collection of symptoms some people with dementia or Alzheimer’s experience during the transition of day to night. Sundowners syndrome does not help to explain why this behavior happens.

Who Does Sundown Syndrome Impact?

With few exceptions, the Sundowners Syndrome umbrella of behaviors impacts people with Alzheimer’s or Dementia. As many as 1 in 5 people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease show some signs of Sundowners Syndrome. Often the onset of Sun downing symptoms can be traced to things such as new medication, the shift of daylight savings time, or additional stress in the life of a person experiencing memory loss.

What are Signs of Sundowners Syndrome?

Some seniors experience constant behavioral issues. That agitation, as a character trait would not be considered the same as a person suffering from Sundowners syndrome. If your loved one exhibits any of the following symptoms at night they might be expressing signs of Sundowners:

• Confusion
• Heightened anxiety
• Paranoia
• Aggression or anger
• Moaning and crying
• Wandering and pacing
• Hiding objects
• Delusional thinking or acting out hallucinations

If any of these signs sound similar to you, your loved one might be suffering with Sundowners Syndrome. Fortunately, there are actions that can be taken in order to help your loved one cope with their night time agitation.

What Can I Do to Help My Loved One with Sundowners Syndrome?


1. Create a Comfortable Night Time Environment

Night time can be confusing to a person with Dementia for several reasons. First, their senses become dulled. The evening becomes dark and quiet. This can be frightening to an older person who might not have the best sight or hearing abilities. Proper lighting and reasonable volumes for things like radios and televisions can make a Sun downing senior feel much more comfortable. Additionally, make efforts to have their bedroom be a comfortable haven. Keep their sleeping area a comfortable temperature and have plenty of night lights to ensure they can see if they need to get up during the night. If your loved one tends to wander, ensure that the proper door and window locks are in place to keep them safe and secure.


2. Keep a Consistent Schedule

To the best of your ability ensure that your loved one can stick to a consistent schedule. Plan all meals, bathing, and bedtime at specific hours. A consistent schedule can help your loved one make more sense of their confusing world. It might take a while for a senior with dementia to adapt to a scheduled lifestyle, but it will be beneficial to both you and them in the long term.


3. Make Daytime More Active

Seniors who are sufficiently active during the day are more likely to experience restful nights. Bear in mind, what ‘active’ means to you and your loved one might vary from that of another senior. Keep your loved one active within their personal limitations. Take them for day trips and ensure they always get a daily exercise routine in. Anxiety and stress are often the result of an under worked mind, so allow your loved one to explore their world and seek to better understand. This will benefit their inconsistent sleep cycle.


4. Avoid Stimulants

It should go without saying, but if your senior loved one is having difficult sleeping avoid giving them caffeine. Even a seemly innocent cup of morning coffee can result in a restless sleeper. Our bodies can become more caffeine sensitive as we age, so attempt to replace their morning coffee with a decaffeinated version. Additionally, limit screen time as your senior loved one approaches their designated bed time. Ideally, your loved one should have a full 2 hours away from a screen before settling down for bed.


5. Talk to A Doctor

You should always speak with a doctor if your loved one’s behavior is erratic. Sleep is vital to all living things, and if your loved one is having difficulty it can take a major toll on their health. Your loved one’s doctor should be able to offer advice or prescribe a sleep aide if the situation dictates.

Is Your Loved One Receiving the Care they Need?

It can be difficult to care for a person who has difficulty with evening agitation. If your loved one is experiencing Sundowning associated with Alzheimer’s or Dementia, it can be beneficial to enlist the help of a senior caregiver who can keep them active during the day while you are at work. Learn if it is time that you need outside help by contacting one of our Alzheimer’s consultants today.

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