Many people living with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia can experience unpredictable agitation or confusion around sunset.  

This is referred to as Sundowner’s Syndrome, because the symptoms seem to be triggered by fading light, among other things, and typically disappear by morning. While there is no one explanation to the cause of the condition, common symptoms include restlessness, irritability, disorientation and demanding behavior. 

The Sundowning individual is not the only one who suffers from the syndrome. Witnessing outbursts can be frustrating, exhausting and even frightening for caretakers or loved ones.

 Sept TKS Sundowners 1

While you may not be able to stop Sundowner’s Syndrome, there are steps to help minimize or prevent an episode by avoiding common triggers.

  • Shifting Schedules or Meal Plans: A change in environment like an unfamiliar place or food can cause confusion and overwhelm those with dementia, which can also lead to frustration or anger. If you need to change your routine, try doing it in steps or as slowly as possible.
  • Tiredness or Fatigue: Everyone can have mood swings if they are tired, and these behaviors can be even more apparent for your loved one. Exhaustion toward the end of the day or a sudden halt in activity after the dinner hours that leaves your loved one feeling restless can contribute to negative feelings. The emotions they’re experiencing may make sleeping difficult. Try to help your loved one stay active during the day and slowly wind down in the evening to help improve sleep quality and reduce symptoms.
  • Internal Imbalances: Researchers attribute some symptoms of Sundowner’s Syndrome to hormonal imbalances or disruptions in the internal body clock. Make sure to ask your loved one’s doctor about the medications they are taking to prevent imbalances and adverse sleeping affects.
  • Low Light: Lack of sunlight in a darker home can make seeing more difficult, especially if your loved one already uses glasses or has a vision impairment. The shadows created by indoor lights can also cause confusion and fear. Try to keep your home brightly lit to make the transition from day to night smoother.
  • Winter: Although Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can affect people of all ages, the shorter days of the season can exacerbate Sundowner’s Syndrome symptoms in particular as the days are shorter. 

For more information on the signs and symptoms of Sundowner’s Syndrome and how you can help, click here. If you have healthcare questions while caring for a loved one or yourself, call 1.866.KINDRED to speak with a Registered Nurse 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

By Lena Muldoon