Caring for someone with dementia comes with many challenges. One that you might not know about until you experience it is sundowning. It happens as the day starts to wind down, often in the late afternoon and into the evening, and it can cause confusion, agitation, irritability, anxiety, restlessness and similar symptoms. These tips can help you deal with sundowning.
While it's not entirely known why people with dementia experience sundowning, several things could contribute to the agitation, including:
Being aware of what triggers sundowning in your loved one can help you avoid those triggers or give you areas to focus on. Listening to what your loved one says when they experience sundowning could give you clues about what's triggering the response.
Since being overly tired can contribute to sundowning, working on your loved one's sleep schedule could help. Create a daily routine that allows them to go to bed and wake up around the same time each day. Plan a set of soothing activities leading up to bedtime that keep them calm and help them prepare for sleep. This might include calming music, a relaxing bath or aromatherapy with lavender essential oil. Test different options to find a routine that works well for you.
Along with a structured sleep routine, look for things to remove that could interfere with sleep. For example, your loved one's diet can have an impact on rest. Food and drinks with caffeine may make it difficult for them to sleep, especially if they consume caffeine later in the day. Alcohol can also amplify confusion and interfere with slumber.
How you spend your day can also affect sleep patterns. Resting throughout the day can prevent your loved one from becoming overly tired. Be careful with napping, though. Taking long naps during the day might make it more difficult for your loved one to fall asleep at night. Stimulating activities, such as exercise, close to bedtime could also make it more difficult to doze off.
Having structure and routine can be beneficial for people with dementia. It creates a sense of familiarity and can reduce confusion and anxiety. Create regular routines that work well for your loved one. Keep in mind that planning too many activities could contribute to sundowning. Excessive activity can leave your loved one exhausted and overstimulated, potentially leading to sundowning. Plan activities strategically to prevent them from becoming overwhelmed.
Exposure to sunlight during the day can help improve sleep and wake cycles. If your loved one's internal clock is off-track, getting lots of sunlight during the day might help. Spend time outdoors or go for a walk each day. If going outside isn't an option, set up a spot near a window where your loved one can spend time each day. Open window coverings to let in lots of natural light.
A calm environment with relaxed evening activities may help your loved one avoid sundowning behaviors. Minimize noise and activity around the person with dementia. You might limit visitors in the evening to help them relax and avoid too much stimulation. Plan louder, more engaging activities for earlier in the day when your loved one is more alert and choose calmer evening activities, such as doing puzzles and reading.
For some people with dementia, dim evening lighting can amplify sundowning. If the lighting creates lots of shadows, it can add to their confusion. Use supplemental lighting at night to minimize shadows. Keeping the light soft yet effective at chasing away the shadows can help create a soothing environment.
Sometimes sundowning happens even when you take precautions. Knowing how to respond can help calm the situation and avoid extra frustration. Redirecting your loved one is often an effective tactic. This can be as simple as going for a walk, listening to their favorite music or turning on a TV show they enjoy. Think about activities they enjoy or actions that soothe and calm them, such as having their hair brushed, folding clothes or fidgeting with a small object.
It's easy to feel overwhelmed when caring for someone with dementia. Sundowning can worsen if the person picks up on frustration or anxiety from other people. Keeping yourself calm can prevent this effect. A quiet, soothing voice can also help calm your loved one. Validate their feelings and use gentle touch, like holding their hand to help them feel safe.
When you've tried everything and nothing works, consider talking to your loved one's doctor. They might offer medication options to improve sleep or have other suggestions to minimize sundowning.
If sundowning becomes too much for you to handle, you might consider memory care for your loved one. Autumn View Gardens provides faith-based memory care with individualized care in a stimulating environment. Our compassionate caregivers work hard to create a positive, familiar environment to help your loved one thrive.
*Please don't remove this section it is working with 3 TalkFurther buttons on live url