Senior man in pajamas sitting outside house at night

As the sun begins to set, most of us can relax after a long day and plan for a restful evening to unwind – unless you are providing care for a loved one with dementia. Sundowning in older adults, or sundown syndrome, is a frequent occurrence in Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia, and can lead to restless, sleepless nights of anxiety, disorientation, confusion, and agitation – occurring for a few hours as the sun sets or even for the entire night.

The exact cause behind sundowning behaviors isn’t fully understood, but contributing factors may include:

  • An interruption in the senior’s internal body clock
  • A requirement for less sleep
  • Medication side effects
  • The lack of ability to distinguish reality from dreams, triggering disorientation
  • Mental and/or physical exhaustion and fatigue from a difficult day

Try these strategies to help prevent or minimize sundowning in older adults with dementia:

  • Just before the sun sets, close drapes and pull down window shades, so the senior cannot see the darkening sky – and, be sure there is plenty of light throughout the house.
  • Try to structure the older adult’s day to include lots of activities and deter afternoon napping.
  • Switch to calming, soothing activities at the end of the day. Turn off the TV, play peaceful music, and give the senior a cup of warm herbal tea or milk.
  • Pay attention to the senior’s eating habits throughout the day, limiting caffeine and sweets to the morning hours and serving an earlier dinner.
  • Speak with the older adult’s physician for advice in order to confirm there are not any underlying physical conditions contributing to the problem, such as incontinence or other bladder issues or anything causing physical pain. The doctor may recommend a medication to help the older adult relax in the evening.

If, in spite of these strategies, the senior continues to be agitated and remains awake during the nighttime hours, there are steps you can take to help. First and foremost, remain calm and avoid arguing or engaging in lengthy conversations. Simply provide assurance that your senior loved one is safe and everything is okay. Identify if there is something the senior needs, and after responding to any specific concerns, delicately remind your loved one of the time, and suggest getting some sleep. He or she may also feel more comfortable in a new sleeping environment, such as in a well-liked chair or guest bedroom, utilizing nightlights or other indirect, soft lighting.

At-Home Care Company’s highly trained and experienced senior helpers serving Des Moines and nearby communities offer a great solution to sundowning or any other challenging behaviors. We are available to take the night shift and help older adults take part in calming and pleasant activities when sleep eludes them, allowing family caregivers the chance to receive the rest they need. We even provide around-the-clock, live-in care to make sure seniors are safe and well looked after any time of day.

Contact us at (515) 292-2650 to learn more about how our senior helpers in Des Moines and the surrounding areas can design a customized plan of care to meet your particular needs, and improve quality of life for a senior you love.

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