Late afternoon and early evening can be an especially challenging time for seniors with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. The confusion, restlessness, and irritability that can occur at this time of day is known as sundown syndrome. It can continue into the night, making it difficult for your dad to fall asleep and stay in bed, which is hard on him and on his wife or family caregiver.
If you’ve noticed your parent or spouse is experiencing symptoms of declining memory, it’s important to be with them in the late afternoon and early evening to see if they are having sundowner symptoms, are increasingly agitated, suspicious and even pacing and yelling. They may need some additional care, someone to be with them to help during that difficult time.
Tips to help manage sundowning
During the day:
- Provide a regular routine, with activities and appointments earlier in the day.
- Daily exercise also can be helpful, along with time outside or by a window in bright daylight.
- If your loved one needs a nap, make sure that it’s not too long and that it ends at least four hours before bedtime.
In the late afternoon and evenings:
- Stay calm and reassure your dad that everything is okay. Ask if he needs anything.
- Keep the area quiet and pleasant, with soothing music, and make sure the temperature is comfortable.
- Try reading, playing cards or going for a walk.
- Turn on lights and close the curtains or blinds to avoid shadows and the confusion they may cause.
- Make sure living areas are safe, with locks on doors and windows and with dangerous items such as kitchen utensils put away.
All of us feel better and can function more easily when we sleep well. Helping your loved one avoid caffeine and alcohol, sweets, and a large meal late in the day can help with getting a good night’s sleep.
The National Institute on Aging recommends seeking medical advice if sundowning continues to be a problem. An exam by a doctor may identify a cause contributing to sundowning, such as pain, illness, a medication side effect or a sleep disorder.
Hope for the future — finding effective treatments and searching for a cure
The Alzheimer’s Association is a valuable resource for up-to-date information. Their website confirms, “Researchers are conducting studies to find new interventions and treatments that can prevent Alzheimer’s, diagnose the disease earlier, slow its progression or stop it in its tracks.”
If you or your loved one needs information, advice and support from trained and knowledgeable staff, you can call the Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 Helpline at 1-800-272-3900.
Here in Whatcom County, Take My Hand At-Home Care’s licensed caregivers provide memory care services that help seniors live in the comfort of their own homes in Lynden, Bellingham, Ferndale, Blaine, Everson, Nooksack, Sumas, and Birch Bay.