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Understanding “Sundowner’s Syndrome” in Memory Care

It’s late afternoon. You’ve been visiting your elderly mother—who has dementia—when you notice she’s becoming agitated and angry. What’s going on?

It may be Sundowner’s Syndrome.

Sundowner’s is a group of symptoms that often appear in those with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. Thought to be triggered by the waning light of the day, the symptoms typically appear during the late afternoon or evening hours. Sundowner’s can express itself as mood swings, confusion, sadness, anxiety, anger, aggression or other behaviors.

If Mom is experiencing those symptoms, here are seven things you can do to help manage her condition:

1. Track her behavior.

If you notice Mom exhibiting symptoms of Sundowner’s, start keeping a journal. Write down what the symptoms are, what helps to ease them and what seems to make them worse. Each case of Sundowner’s is different, so it’s important for you and her caregivers to know how your mother is expressing the syndrome.

2. Curb her energy.

Having a spike in energy later in the day can be a sign of Sundowner’s. If Mom experiences this, consider restricting her caffeine intake to the morning hours—or nix it altogether. You might also see that she gets some exercise during the day to neutralize her excess energy.

3. Give her light.

To help set Mom’s internal clock, make sure she gets 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 her bed or chair. Her body may recognize that it is morning and react accordingly during the day so she’ll be calmer by evening.

4. Use redirection.

If Mom gets irritable, distract her by taking out a photo album, turning on her favorite music or doing something else she enjoys. Redirecting her attention to something pleasurable can help ease her unsettled emotions.

5. Ensure her safety.

If Mom lives at home, it can be difficult to manage her restlessness. Memory Care Centers provide safe, secure environments for those with dementia so they can move about without injuring themselves.

6. Consult her doctor.

Talking to Mom’s doctor about her symptoms is important. Tell her doctor and her caregivers about the behaviors you’re seeing, and ask about options for lessening her symptoms. They may suggest medication to ease pain or reduce agitation, or might recommend supplements such as melatonin to aid with sleep.

7. Be patient.

Sundowner’s can be difficult for both you and your mother, especially when it first appears. Try not to call attention to the symptoms or argue with her. Instead, focus on identifying the triggers so that you can help Mom get the care she needs.

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, contact Life Care Services.

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