Dementia and Sundowning

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by David Herman

September is World Alzheimer’s month or as I will call it, World Dementia Month. This is the second in a series of articles that I hope are of use to people living with Dementia, or caring for someone with Dementia. This week I will explain a little about a condition called Sundowning.

What is “Sundowning”? Sundowning is a behaviour that some people living with dementia exhibit. As the sun begins to set, the patient can become upset, agitated, might become combative, or want to leave the house. As many as 20 percent of people with Alzheimer’s may experience increased confusion, anxiety, agitation, pacing, and disorientation, beginning around dusk and continuing throughout the night.

What causes Sundowning? Some suggest it may relate to increased activity in the home with meal preparation etc., increased shadows with the onset of night, or perhaps the individual is exhausted by this time of day.

How can a caregiver reduce the risk of Sundowning? A caregiver can try a number of techniques to try and head off sundowning. Try to make sure they have enough physical activity during the day, that a person has engaged in cognitive stimulation through the day. Maybe a half hour before symptoms usually start, spend some time doing a jig saw puzzle, or looking through photo albums, or go for a walk in the neighbourhood.

Do people living with dementia also have sleep issues? You can help prevent sleep issues by engaging in physical activities, engaging in meaningful activities, and setting a routine (getting up at the same time and have a set bedtime). You can also limit caffeine, or caffeinated products, after 3 in the afternoon.

Strategies that can help caregivers cope with sundowning when it is occurring: redirecting is a strategy that is very helpful, perhaps some soothing music, or taking them to a quiet room.

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