Challenges of Sundowning: Coping Strategies to Improve Sleep and Well-Being for Seniors with Dementia

Wednesday, May 01, 2024

Sundowning, a phenomenon commonly associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, poses unique challenges for both seniors experiencing it and their caregivers. Understanding the challenges of sundowning and implementing effective coping strategies can significantly improve the quality of life for seniors with dementia.

In this article, we’ll delve into what sundowning is, its common symptoms, potential causes, and practical tips for managing and reducing the impact to those with memory loss and their caregivers.

What Is Sundowning?

Sundowning refers to a pattern of behavioral symptoms that typically occur in the late afternoon or early evening, often worsening as daylight fades. Seniors with dementia may exhibit a range of challenging behaviors during this time, including agitation, confusion, restlessness, and mood swings.

Sundowning usually manifests in the middle to later stages of dementia and can have a significant impact on an individual’s sleep cycle and overall well-being.

Common Symptoms of Sundowning and Their Causes

Symptoms of sundowning can include:

  • Agitation or irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Suspicion or paranoia
  • Pacing or wandering
  • Hallucinations or delusions
  • Mood swings

Though a specific singular cause of sundowning remains unclear, several factors are thought to play a role in its development and intensity. These factors include:

  • Disruption of the sleep-wake cycle due to dementia-related changes in the brain
  • Fatigue resulting from difficulty processing information
  • Environmental triggers, such as low lighting, increased shadows, and noise
  • Unmet needs, such as hunger, thirst, pain, or discomfort
  • Emotional cues from caregivers, including frustration or stress

By understanding the potential causes of sundowning and addressing them proactively, you can help mitigate its impact and improve the overall well-being of your loved one. Let’s look at how you can help your loved one in these situations.

Tips to Reduce and Cope with Sundowning Symptoms

Managing sundowning requires a combination of lifestyle adjustments and environmental modifications. These tips can help you alleviate your loved one’s sundowning symptoms:

  • Maintain a predictable daily routine to provide structure and stability
  • Include daytime activities and exposure to sunlight to encourage feeling sleepy at night
  • Limit daytime napping
  • Encourage regular exercise earlier in the day, avoiding strenuous activities close to bedtime
  • Minimize caffeine and sugar intake, particularly in the afternoon and evening
  • Create a calm and soothing environment at night by adjusting lighting, temperature, and noise levels
  • Engage in quiet and relaxing activities before bedtime, such as reading or listening to music

When faced with sundowning symptoms, caregivers can employ several strategies to provide comfort and support:

  • Engage with your loved one calmly and reassuringly
  • Identify and address any unmet needs or discomfort
  • Redirect them with an activity they enjoy
  • Ensure safety measures are in place for nighttime, such as night lights, locks on doors, motion detectors, and removing potential hazards

If your loved one is awake and upset overnight, try to approach in a calm, peaceful manner. Find out if there is something that they need. Offer reassurance that everything is okay. Gently remind them what time it is. Avoid arguing or using physical restraint, allowing your loved one to pace under supervision if needed.

With these tips and plans in place, you can help your loved one feel the comfort of a dependable routine and navigate them through sundowning symptoms so they feel safe and at ease.

adult daughter with her arms livingly around her senior fatherWhat Can Caregivers Do for Support?

Caring for a senior with dementia experiencing sundowning can be challenging, but you are not alone. Seeking support from other caregivers and prioritizing self-care are essential for maintaining overall well-being. Support groups and respite care services can offer valuable assistance and guidance for navigating the complexities of sundowning.

If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, ask a family member or friend to give you a short break from your regular caregiving duties. Try to take small breaks throughout the day, when your loved one is at their best.

If symptoms are affecting your or your loved one’s quality of life, or becoming more than you can safely manage at home, it may be time to consider looking into potential care options.

Working Through Sundowning with Individualized Attention

Sundowning presents unique challenges for seniors with dementia and their caregivers, but with patience, understanding, and the right strategies, it is possible to manage its impact effectively.

At Bridges® by EPOCH, we specialize in providing personalized memory care solutions to support seniors with dementia and their families. Contact us today to learn more about our memory care communities and discover how we can help improve your loved one’s well-being, day and night.

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