Dementia 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, fear, agitation, delusions, and even hallucinations, and cause increased confusion that can be distressing for both patients and their caregivers.
What is Sundowners Syndrome?
When memory care patients exhibit sundowning behaviors, they sometimes mimic their caregivers, following them around, closely observing, and trying to shadow their actions. They may also interrupt conversations or ask questions over and over again. The sundowning patient may even temporarily lose the ability to speak coherently, and more abstract ideas 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 escape.
Sundowners syndrome can manifest itself with some concerning behaviors and emotions in dementia patients including 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 during the twilight hours, but timing varies greatly patient to patient. It’s critical for caregivers to note their patient’s routines, mood changes, and behaviors, so they can recognize patterns and better manage symptoms.
Ways to Minimize Sundowners Symptoms
- Try your best to remain calm and even. Raising your voice or touching your loved one in an unexpected way can also make things worse.
- Work to create a peaceful environment without a lot of noise or distractions. Try to minimize excessive commotion during the times of day when you notice symptoms typically worsen.
- Don’t try to reason or rationalize with the patient. Arguing and asking for explanations can often cause more frustration, and thereby exacerbate the problem.
- Plan busy days with lots of activities to keep your loved one or patient occupied, and discourage excessive daytime napping. This can help ensure your patient or loved one is tired and ready for sleep at night, when symptoms tend to worsen.
- Take note of times of day, places, people, or activities that appear 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.
- Try keeping the curtains drawn to distract from the darkening sky, and turning on indoor lights to keep the space well-lit can help improve visibility.
- Reassurance and validation can go a long way. 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.
- Use a nightlight or multiple nightlights. Keeping the memory care patient’s room somewhat lit can help reduce the agitation that can accompany unfamiliar surroundings. Some people with dementia 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 memory care staff at Regency Retirement Village of Morristown specializes in providing exceptional Alzheimer’s care, and can meet and treat your loved one exactly where they are.
Our compassionate staff at Regency Retirement Village understands the unique challenges that come with treating memory disorders, and we are equipped to help you and your loved ones deal with the symptoms in the best ways. You don’t have to handle things alone.