Alzheimer’s Disease comes with a long list of symptoms, one of the most difficult being changes in behavior and mood. One of the more disruptive groups of symptoms that can arise in the moderate to later stages of the disease is known as sundowners syndrome or sundowning, and it involves behavior patterns and issues that tend to present themselves in the late afternoon, evening, and nighttime hours. The symptoms include sadness, agitation, fear, delusions, and even hallucinations, and cause an increased confusion that can be extremely distressing for patients and their caregivers alike.
What Does Sundowning Entail?
When memory care or dementia patients are sundowning, they might mimic their caregivers, following them around, closely observing, and trying to shadow everything they do. They may also ask questions repeatedly or interrupt conversations. The sundowning patient may even temporarily lose the ability to communicate clearly and speak coherently, and more abstract thoughts can become especially difficult for them to grasp. In more severe instances, sundowning patients may exhibit extreme restlessness, wandering around their environment or trying to go outside or get away.
Potential Symptoms of Sundowners Syndrome
Sundowners syndrome can elicit some concerning behaviors and emotions in dementia patients such as anger, agitation, confusion, anxiety, fear, delusions, emotional outbursts, depression, stubbornness, restlessness, rocking back and forth, visual and auditory hallucinations, paranoia, hiding things, violent outbursts, wandering or pacing around, crying, yelling or screaming, trouble sleeping, and shadowing behaviors.
The behaviors typically begin to show themselves in the twilight hours, but the exact timing can vary greatly from patient to patient. It’s important for caregivers to take note of their patient’s routines, mood changes, and behaviors, recognizing patterns that can help minimize the symptoms however possible.
Ways to Minimize Sundowning Symptoms
- Don’t try to rationalize or reason with the patient. Arguing and asking for explanations can often cause more frustration and exacerbate the problem.
- Try to stay calm and even toned. Raising your voice or touching the patient or loved one in an unexpected way can also make things worse.
- Provide a peaceful environment away from noise and distractions. Try to minimize excessive commotion and noise during the times of day when you notice symptoms worsen.
- Keep curtains drawn to distract from the sky changing from light to dark, turning on indoor lights to keep the space well-lit to improve visibility.
- Plan a busy day with lots of activities to keep your loved one or patient busy, and discourage excessive daytime napping. Keeping the patient awake and engaged helps ensure they’re tired and ready for sleep at night, when symptoms tend to worsen.
- Take note of certain times, places, people, or activities that seem to trigger difficult behaviors or dementia symptoms. Noticing these patterns can help you work around them, creating a routine that takes the path of least resistance.
- In the event that the patient is feeling paranoid or is experiencing delusions, it’s more effective to meet them where they are in their version of reality rather than trying to reorient them. Reassurance and validation can go a long way.
- Use a nightlight or multiple nightlights. Keeping the dementia patient’s room partially lit can help reduce the agitation that accompanies unfamiliar surroundings. Some dementia patients experience changes in vision that can make the dark more frightening and disorienting for them.
- Be flexible. Dealing with the effects of memory loss and Alzheimer’s Disease is an unpredictable business, so being able to roll with the punches is helpful for patients, caregivers, and loved ones. Patience is always key.
- Finding an environment with a great memory care program can also be extremely helpful. Our caregivers at Regency Retirement Village of Huntsville specialize in providing exceptional Alzheimer’s care, and can meet your loved one exactly where they are.
Our team at Regency understands the unique challenges that come with memory disorders, and we are fully equipped to help you and your loved ones find the best ways to deal with the symptoms. You don’t have to go it alone.