Alzheimer’s disease is painful—for both the caretakers and your loved ones struggling through it. It is a difficult disease no matter the time of day, but if you’re a caretaker, you might notice your loved one acting a little differently, particularly in the late afternoon and early evening. This is called sundowning. While it cannot be stopped completely, you can find ways to manage it to help the both of you sleep and relax better at night.
What is Sundowning?
Sundowning is a term Fort Lauderdale home care services use to understand a range of responses that people with Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia have in the evening. This includes problems sleeping, confusion, anxiety, agitating, pacing, or any other type of disorientation. You will generally notice sundowning as the daylight fades, but it can continue into the night as well. Researchers don’t completely know why this occurs in the evening, although it’s thought to be a combination of the impact of the disease on the brain and how the disease disrupts one’s circadian rhythms. When the body’s circadian rhythms (or their natural body clock) are interrupted, that impacts how the body sleeps and wakes up at night. It’s understandable that this would cause some irritation and uneasiness, which can be difficult for you as a caregiver to handle as well.
How to Reduce Sundowning
Sundowning is a decidedly difficult condition with no clear predictors. It can be made even worse, due to simple things like poor eyesight or difficulty hearing. It can’t be completely gotten rid of, but you can help reduce it in order to better cope with it.
Start out first by calmly listening to your loved one’s concerns. It can be easy to get caught up in their emotions, but take a breath and reassure them that everything is okay. Try to distract them from anything stressful and to manage any extra distractions. You can do this by introducing a favorite snack, activity, or object around the evening time. You might even suggest a simple kind of task to distract them, like folding a towel or watching their favorite TV show. Try playing something soothing, reading, or even going for a walk, and if you’re finding that none of this works, you can even plan something to occur at that time like a phone call.
One of the best ways to help with sundowning is to think of a schedule and stick to it. One way you can do this is to close shades early and turn on lights to eliminate shadows. Keep the same schedule every day, and if you do need to make changes, make these changes gradually so that your loved one has a little time to adjust.
Make it a point to help your loved one experience the daylight. Bring them outside to feel the sun, and limit napping or things like caffeine during the day. You might even keep a nightlight on to help them relax when it's dark out. If you really want to try it, there is some research that suggests that a low dose of melatonin during daylight might help as well.
It’s true that being overtired can be worse for sundowning, and that you don’t want your loved one to be too exhausted. You also don’t want them to sleep too much during the day or they’ll have trouble falling asleep at night. Help your loved one stay active during the day with some simple activities like a walk outside or even some movement inside the apartment. You don’t need to spend all of your time on activities, but even little things can do a lot.
Sundowning is a difficult condition to manage. It’s a struggle for your loved one to want to sleep when the evening light makes it hard. You can do some small things to help them out though, like keeping them on schedule and experiencing some daylight with them. With just a few changes, it’s possible for you and your loved one to both get a good night’s rest.