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Sundowner’s Syndrome

The World Health Organization states the approximately 15% of seniors live with a mental disorder.  The top challenges are listed as depression, anxiety, dementia, and Alzheimer’s Disease.  (WHO)  While mood changes can be common for most people, an in seniors often accompany health problems, they are especially challenging for those experiencing memory issues. Seniors who have a memory-related illness, such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, are more prone to mood changes than most.  One of these challenging mood changes is called Sundowner’s Syndrome.  (NCBI)

What is Sundowner’s Syndrome?

  • A behavior pattern
    • It is not a disease.
    • Often most noticed by caregivers and health staff.
  • A mood change
    • Frequently occurs in late afternoon, evening, night
  • A common issue in certain groups
    • In seniors with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease
  • Symptoms
    • Stress, anxiety, restlessness, confusion, aggression
    • Made worse by poor lighting, fatigue, disrupted schedule (SeniorLiving)
  • Triggers
    • Dim or changing lighting
      • Sun setting, shorter days, poor lighting within the home
    • Disruptions to routines
      • Events, travel, illness
      • Exciting, energizing activities later in the day
    • Unhealthy diets
    • Argumentative or commanding tones

Managing Sundowner’s Syndrome

For most people, the later hours of the day are a time of calming down and getting ready for rest.  But for individuals with memory-related disease, this can be a time of increased activity and restlessness.  Here are some ways caregivers can help them through these challenging hours.

  1. Support Sleep
    1. Schedule disruptions and lack of quality sleep can make sundowning worse.  It is important that caregivers support seniors getting good sleep through regular schedules and consistent routines.  Caregivers can also consult their loved one’s doctor about supplements to aid in falling asleep such as melatonin.
  2. Use Lighting
    1. One of the triggers of sundowner’s syndrome is poor or dim lighting.  Turning more lights on later in the day, especially when the sun goes down, is helpful.  Lights should then be kept on until bedtime.  Caregivers can also close the blinds, shades, and curtains to help minimize symptoms.
  3. Remain a Calm Presence
    1. To ensure a stable mood in their loved one or patient, the caregiver must be a calming and reassuring presence at all times.  Individuals with memory-related diseases often mimic the caregiver’s facial cues, tone of voice, body language, and stress level.  Knowing this, it is important for caregivers to always project calm when mood swings begin.  Reminders of the time and what place they are at in the daily schedule is important as it helps seniors to relax despite confusion and anxiety.  (WebMD)

Careful and consistent communication between caregivers is vitally important when seniors have sundowner’s syndrome.  This ensures routines are always kept the same, no matter which caregiver is in the home at any given time, and alleviates symptoms.

Safe @ Home Senior Care is a proud provider of patient centered care.  For more information on how we can help keep your senior safe within their home, call us today at 715-598-7233.


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