Sundowning is a term used for changes in behaviour that occur in the evening, around dusk. Some people who have dementia experience a growing sense of agitation or anxiety at this time.
What is sundowning?
People living with Alzheimer’s and other dementia may experience sleeping problems or increased confusion, anxiety, agitation, pacing and disorientation beginning at dusk and continuing throughout the night. The term “sundowning” refers to changes in behaviour that occur in the evening. This makes it hard for them to get sleep. This may continue into the night and is not necessarily linked to the sun setting or limited to the end of the day.
What causes sundowning?
Many factors may contribute to sleep disturbances and sundowning.
- Mental and physical exhaustion from trying to keep up with an unfamiliar or confusing environment.
- Not enough exposure to sunlight during the day. Reduced lighting can increase shadows and may cause the person living with the disease to misinterpret what they see.
- Disruption to the persons ‘internal body clock’, causing a mix-up between day and night. This is caused by damage to the brain.
- Mood disorders such as anxiety or depression.
- Noisy and busy environments can trigger sundowning
Tips to help manage sundowning
- Schedule activities such as doctor appointments, trips and bathing in the morning when the person is more alert.
- Plan activities such as walks or any exposure outside in the sunlight. This helps to encourage nighttime sleepiness.
- Keep the home well lit in the evening which may reduce the person’s confusion.
- Plan activities that are soothing to the person living with dementia. This may include playing calming music, looking at photographs or watching a movie.
- Avoid large meals in the evening which can disrupt.
- A really important tip is to make notes about what happens before sundowning events which will make it easier to identify triggers.
Visit Alzheimer’s Association and Alzheimer’s Society for further advice on how to look after a loved one who is experiencing sundowning.