What is Sundowner’s Syndrome?

Though Sundowner’s Syndrome may not be as recognized as other age-related conditions, those suffering from it deserve some attention and an accommodating response. The syndrome also affects more than its sufferer, as caregivers may start to feel the strain as well. Enhanced understanding of Sundowner’s Syndrome can promote and allow both the targeted loved one and their caregiver alleviation from “sundowning” and its consequences.

What Is Sundowners Syndrome?

Also known as sundowning, Sundowner’s Syndrome is a not a disease, but a cluster of neurological changes associated with increased confusion and restlessness. Indications of sundowning are primarily mood changes noted to occur in the late afternoon or early evening hours. Fading light is thought to spark the changes with the symptoms worsening as the night goes on and diminishing come morning time. Disposition transformations may include agitation, restlessness, irritably, confusion, and disorientation with the potential for yelling, pacing, and seeing and hearing absent objects and noises.

Sundowning is commonly witnessed in people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia (up to one out of five people), though seniors devoid of dementia may also develop sundowning characteristics. While the primary cause of Sundowner’s Syndrome is not well understood, researchers speculate sundowning is primarily tied to brain changes seniors are likely to undergo. Additionally, individuals with Alzheimer’s tend to have negotiated brain function regarding sleep-wake cycles, subsequently building the blocks of Sundowner’s Syndrome. The likelihood of sundowning symptoms increase if the “sundowner” experiences exhaustion, hunger or thirst, depression, boredom, and pain.

Tips to Reduce Sundowning

Since little is known about the condition, a true treatment plan is unestablished at this time. Health experts do advocate sundowners may benefit from the following tips:

Promote Structure

Set regular times for sleep, meals, and other routine activities. Also, try to plan external and required events at the beginning of the day when they are more likely to feel their best. Promoting structure can ultimately reduce the risk for sudden agitation and irritability following an unstructured event.

Diminish Sleep Disturbers

Encourage regular sleep patterns by reducing factors that may inhibit a good night’s rest. Try to limit naps, especially in the afternoon, or shorten them to approximately 20 minutes if they are absolutely necessary. Cut out sugar, caffeine, and other stimulants following the morning hours and start to wind down at the end of the evening with relaxing music, a book, or a light walk.

Nurture A Relaxed Environment

Providing a calm, relaxed environment can reduce sundowning triggers. For instance, reduce the abruptness of natural darkness by keeping lights on and shutting curtains and blinds. Further provide a soothing atmosphere by keeping the room at a comfortable temperature, providing cozy furniture, and uncluttering the area. 

Remain Composed

In addition to nurturing and prompting a relaxed environment, create composure within a personal level. Though dealing with sundowning may cause frustrations, the loved one may start to notice and cause an acceleration of their symptoms. Rather than displaying and mirroring some of their behaviors, try to remain calm and accommodating. Remind them of the time, assist to their needs, offer reassurance that everything will be okay, and allow them to pace or vent if need be, just stay cautious of their striding floor paths and hazards they may encounter (stairs, counter edges, rugs, etc.).

Seek Out Professional Assistance

If symptoms become unmanageable and the happiness of your loved one becomes largely compromised, seek out professional care. A healthcare provider may recommend medications and other treatment modalities to manage sundowning. Leading up or in addition to prescriptions, melatonin may be worthy in fostering adequate sleep cycles.

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