What is “Sundowners Syndrome”?
It’s late afternoon. You’ve been visiting your elderly family member — who has dementia — when you notice they’re suddenly becoming agitated and angry. What’s going on?
It may be Sundowners syndrome — a set of neuropsychiatric symptoms occurring in seniors with mid-to-late stage Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. The exact causes of Sundowners Syndrome aren’t well known, but it’s thought to be associated with impaired cognition and circadian rhythm, which is responsible for our sleep-wake cycle, and could be triggered by the waning light of the day.
Sundowning symptoms can be expressed as mood swings, confusion, sadness, anxiety, anger, aggression, hallucinations or delusions. These may lead to pacing, rocking, screaming, crying, disorientation, resistance, anger, aggression — or even violence.
If your loved one is experiencing those symptoms, here are eight things you can do to help with sundowning:
Track Their Behavior
If you notice your family member is exhibiting symptoms of Sundowners Sydrome, start keeping a journal. Write down what the symptoms are, what helps ease them and what seems to make them worse. Each case of Sundowners is different, so it’s important for you and their caregivers to know how your loved one is expressing the syndrome.
Curb Their Energy
Having a spike in energy later in the day can be a sign of Sundowners. If your family member experiences this, consider restricting their caffeine intake to the morning hours — or nix it altogether. You might also see that they get some exercise during the day to neutralize their excess energy.
Give Them Light
To help set your loved one’s internal clock, make sure they get a lot of sunlight in the morning. Take a walk together outside or buy a light box (commonly used to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder) and put it near their bed or chair. Their body may recognize that it’s morning and react accordingly during the day, so they’ll be calmer by evening.
If your family member gets irritable, distract them by taking out a photo album, turning on their favorite music or doing something else they enjoy. Redirecting their attention to something pleasurable can help ease their unsettled emotions.
Ensure Their Safety
If your loved one lives at home, it can be difficult to manage their restlessness. Memory Care Centers provide safe, secure environments for those with dementia so they can move about without injuring themselves.
Consult Their Doctor
Talking to your family member’s doctor about their symptoms is important. Tell their doctor and their caregivers about the behaviors you’re seeing, and ask about options for lessening their symptoms. Their doctor may suggest medication to ease pain or reduce agitation, or might recommend supplements such as melatonin to aid with sleep.
Sundowners syndrome symptoms can be difficult for both you and your loved one, especially when they first appear. Try not to call attention to the symptoms or argue with them. Instead, focus on identifying the triggers so that you can help your family member get the care they need.
Dealing with sundowning can be exhausting to both your loved one and you. That’s why, as a caregiver, it’s essential you take good care of yourself. When you’re rested and healthy, you’ll then be able to give your family member the patience and support they need.
To help you take better care of yourself, try to eat a well-balanced diet, exercise regularly and get enough sleep at night. You can also ask other family members or friends to spend time with your loved one, so you can take a break. Plus, ask your doctor about respite care and other professional support services, to help give you time away from your caregiving duties.
The trained professionals of Life Care Services® offer safe environments for seniors with memory impairments. To learn more about our memory care residences or to visit a community near you, use or search tool.