Soon we will turn the clocks ahead by one hour. That means it will be darker in the morning but lighter in the early evening. Other than a little groaning about losing the hour in the morning, most of us welcome daylight savings, not only for that extra hour of sunlight, but for the anticipation of spring and warmer weather ahead.
However, for an individual challenged by a dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, that hour can wreak havoc on their days and evenings.
Why is this? It’s called “Sundown Syndrome” or “Sundowning” and it is a very real symptomatic condition that causes anxiety when the daylight hours shift into evening. The lower lighting, shadows on the walls, the flurry of activity as people come home from work or a care shift changes; all can cause panic for those living with dementia.
Unfortunately, the exact cause of Sundown Syndrome is unknown. But we do know that there are some conditions and situations that can exacerbate its impact. Here are a few, courtesy of Dr. Jonathan Graff-Radford with the Mayo Clinic:
- Low lighting
- Increased shadows
- Disruption of the body’s “internal clock”
- Difficulty separating reality from dreams
- Presence of an infection, such as a urinary tract infection
What can family caregivers do in advance of daylight savings time to minimize the impact of Sundown Syndrome? Here are some tips from Dr. Graff-Radford:
- Keep to your normal routine for waking, meals and activities.
- Limit daytime napping.
- Limit the intake of sugar and caffeine to morning hours if possible.
- Place a few nightlights in areas that grow dark as the sun sets.
- As evening approaches, try to keep background noise to a minimum.
- If you are in an unfamiliar setting, bring familiar items, such as photographs, to create a more relaxed atmosphere.
- Play soft, soothing music, preferably that is familiar to your loved one.
- Be sure to check for any underlying conditions, such as a urinary tract infection, that may alter behavior.
Sundown Syndrome is a very real behavioral condition. But it can be minimized with some advance planning and awareness. Taking a few steps to counteract the impact of sundowning will help your loved one adapt more readily and help everyone enjoy the benefits of daylight savings time.