Taking care of a parent with Alzheimer’s or dementia is a major challenge and as the day progresses your energy and patience wane. Unfortunately, symptoms of Alzheimer’s or dementia can also get worse as the day wears on. Dementia symptoms that become worse later in the day is a condition known as “Sundowners”. Fortunately, there are several ways to help manage the symptoms.
Sundowners vs. Sunrise Syndrome
Up to 1 in 5 people with Alzheimer’s get Sundown Syndrome. It can also happen to older people who don’t have dementia. Generally, Sundowners begins in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s, and the trend fades as the disease progresses.
A different but related trend in Alzheimer’s symptoms is known as Sunrise Syndrome. In Sunrise Syndrome, a dementia patient wakes up in the morning with hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia. Patients may believe they are trapped, have been kidnapped, or that caretakers in the home are strangers intending to harm them.
In contrast, Sundowners shows itself as the day progresses, and your parent may experience increased confusion, disorientation, wandering, and escape behaviors. At times, anxiety, paranoia, fear, and hallucinations occur.
Doctors and scientists aren’t sure what causes Sundowners. It may be a disturbance in the internal body clock, fatigue from not getting enough rest at night, or the changing light levels that happen as the sun sets. Additional shadows in the house from the sun setting or confusion regarding dreams and reality may be triggers. In addition, if a caregiver gets tired or anxious, your parent can pick up on that and become anxious as well.
5 Ways to Help Your Parent(s)
There are quite a few things you, or your parent’s caretaker, can do to keep your parent calmer in the evenings. Many of these things involve making sure there’s a specific daily routine that your parent can expect and avoiding the things that seem to trigger Sundowners. Here are five ways to help you parent with Sundowner symptoms:
- Schedule appointments and outings early in the day. If you notice that symptoms and agitation increase as the day progresses, then schedule high-energy events like appointments and outings earlier in the day. Both your parent and the caretaker will be ready to handle unexpected challenges.
- Avoid stimulants, Including nicotine, alcohol, and sweets. If your parent absolutely must have a daily cup of coffee, make sure it occurs in the morning. If you can switch them to decaffeinated coffee, that will help as well. Stimulants late in the day will only add to your parent’s agitation.
- Close the blinds and turn on the lights in the evening. Eliminating shadows in the home from the setting sun will help avoid triggering your parent’s anxiety. In addition, the light your parent experiences will not change dramatically, so the Sundowner’s response will be less severe.
- Do calm things in the afternoon and evening. Reserve the afternoon and evening for soothing activities, such as playing cards, reading and relaxing music. When you do these low-energy activities, you’ll be helping your parent wind down for the day in a way that doesn’t trigger agitation or confusion.
- Don’t argue or react with anger. If your parent begins to show signs of Sundowner’s, your response can trigger a positive or negative result. Don’t argue with them, and keep your voice and body language calm. Don’t keep them from pacing, but keep an eye on them to avoid escape behaviors. The less agitated you are, the less likely the situation will escalate.
Caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s is a big challenge, and sometimes it’s best not to go it alone. For more information about helping your parent with Sundowners, or to get in-home care resources, browse the Team Select Health services on our website or call the location nearest you. We’re here to serve you and your family in the best way possible.