In an effort to raise awareness, educate our community and assist families who have been touched by Alzheimer’s disease, this month’s article will focus on “sundowning,” a common behavioral change in a person living with Alzheimer’s disease. 

Evening hours can be especially challenging for those with Sundowner’s Syndrome. There are many hypotheses as to why this particular time of day is difficult – from being tired or bored to natural circadian rhythms responding to the loss of sunlight. 

Even the person’s thoughts of dwelling on days gone by and how life has changed, is enhanced as the day closes. No one truly knows why those with Alzheimer’s get particularly irritable at this time, let alone why people, in general, experience mood swings. But dealing with sundowning can be frustrating.

Top Sundowner Tips for Caregivers

Here are a few tips to make life a little easier during those dusk hours:

1. Encourage a little healthy (not exhausting) exercise during the day to get the person’s endorphins going and blood flowing. This will promote a relaxing and low-key evening to help switch the body to end-of-day focus.

2. Turn lights on in the rooms you and the person you are caring for will be occupying during the evening.

3.  Try to keep the person with Alzheimer’s disease engaged on something, whether it’s a specific task or focus like folding laundry, looking at pictures or playing a game. This helps to create new thought patterns.

4. Select one area of a room to become a “quiet place” where there is a bright light and soothing music.

5. If this time marks a particular trend in the person’s life, try to mimic what they may have done. From setting the table to preparing for dinner or reading the newspaper, these ‘normal’ life activities may be comforting.

6. Only allow cat naps during the day of 20 minutes or less. Hours of sleeping can confuse the body’s circadian rhythms and keep the person too awake at night.

7. If the person you care for paces at night, make sure there’s a clear path and accompany them – to let them know they’re not alone.

8. If you sense your loved one is getting frustrated, hold his or her hand or put your hand on his or her back or knee. Sometimes a soothing hand or shoulder massage can be comforting and can lesson any tension that may be building.

9. Promote evening activities of positive interactions and memories. Whether it’s watching movies, listening to music, looking through family albums or calling a beloved family member or friend. 

10. Maintain a comfortable temperature in the house.

11. Talk to your doctor about medications that may help with sundowner’s.

The key to this time of night is helping the person you care for focus on things outside their own thought process, so they do not get upset. Making this time of day easier on them will, in turn, make it easier on you. Having the right balance of tasks, planning and comfort can help to reduce sundowning. (Source: Dana Larsen)

Feel free to reach out to Jayne Mund, Caregiver Consultant, for resources on coping with sundowning and other behavior changes in the person you care for. A Caregiver Consultant can provide guidance and assist the caregiver in planning for and dealing with aspects of the care-giving experience.  

Take advantage of the support and resources available to you and your family so you can live life to the fullest. 

For information about local resources to assist you in next steps after a diagnosis, contact Jayne Mund at 763-689-8811.

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