Early-stage Alzheimer’s disease doesn’t just affect one person- it can impact a whole family. Suddenly, family members are launched into an unfamiliar role and have to cope with their new situation. Thankfully, in the early stages, there is still time to plan for the future with loved ones. Here are some tips from Alzheimer’s Family Center’s social worker team for when you’re coping with your new role as a caregiver.
What you should know about sundowning syndrome and how it affects patients with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia:
- Sundowning is a phenomenon that may occur in patients with Alzheimer’s disease, and is often referred to as “late-day confusion.”
- Sundowning is most frequently present during the middle to late stages of the disease, but can happen at any stage.
- It is likely due to an interruption in the body’s “internal clock” leading to anxiety, disorientation, or aggression.
- Some people who experience sundowning may have difficulty separating reality from dreams, and difficulty interpreting shadows and light. This may lead to pacing or wandering behaviors, or the person may become restless or irritated.
- The phenomenon of Sundowning is important to recognize as it may interfere with communicating with your loved one like you normally do. You may notice that later in the day, as the light is fading, they may have increased agitation, confusion, and be less receptive to respond to you or cooperate with a task.
- You may also notice a change in their sleep cycle in which they become sleepy or fatigued in the later afternoon, and may not sleep as well through the night.
Tips for Helping Sundowners
If your loved one is experiencing symptoms of Sundowning, try the following:
- Avoid introducing stressful situations, new requests, tasks or concepts in the late afternoon. The morning is often the best time to communicate important information, as many individuals with memory loss tend to be clearer in the morning hours.
- Stay active during the day to promote good sleep habits at night.
- Brighten the lights when your loved one feels confused or agitated in the early afternoon or evening.
- Avoid stressful activities and noisy or overstimulating environments during Sundowning episodes.
- Use familiar items to comfort them- a familiar keepsake, blanket, or other item.
- Keep a routine. A regular schedule of waking up, activities, and going to sleep will help promote a regulated sleep schedule for both caregivers and their loved ones.
There is help for sundowners; Alzheimer’s Family Center in Huntington Beach, CA offers an Evening Program on Wednesdays (4pm to 9pm) that can help address sundowning. Call (714) 593-9630 to learn more.
This excerpt was taken from our eighth caregiver e-book titled Communicating With Your Loved One. To download it and our nine other books, click here.