Have you ever taken a late afternoon nap and awakened to a shadowy, darkening room? If so, you’ve probably experienced that brief feeling of mild disorientation, which you quickly shake off as you adjust to the transition from daytime to evening.
For an individual who struggles with dementia, however, shaking off that feeling and moving on is not that easy. The period of transition from daylight to nighttime can trigger varying levels of anxiety, sometimes resulting in extreme reactions.
This phenomenon is commonly referred to as Sundown Syndrome or “sundowning”. Those who have cared for individuals with dementia experiencing sundowning understand how important it is to recognize the triggers and how to deal effectively with them.
The fall transition from daylight saving time to standard time can increase the impact of Sundown Syndrome. So, as we approach our fall time change, here are some tips to minimize its impact on a loved one with dementia.
First, know the triggers, which can include:
- Low lighting. The casting of shadows on the wall can heighten the feeling of confusion and lead to anxiety.
- End of day hustle and bustle. Whether it involves people coming home from work, or a day caregiver leaving or the beginnings of meal preparation, even minor noise and disruption can be stressful.
- Oversleeping. Individuals who are older may spend more time napping which may trigger sundowning. The sense of being “in and out” of a sleep state can create confusion when fully awakened.
- A Circadian Rhythm interruption. Our internal “natural clock” doesn’t always respond well to time changes, either brought about by daylight saving time or by traveling to different time zones. When thrown off, for those with dementia, it can trigger sundowning.
It is important not to blame yourself. As a caregiver, you can’t control everything that might trigger a sundowning reaction in your loved one. When he/she does exhibit symptoms of sundowning, it is important to have some tools to make it less stressful. Here are some helpful tips from Healthline:
- Keep to a schedule: Sticking to a normal schedule and familiar activities can help lessen the potential for sundowning.
- Turn on lights: Make sure that you have plenty of lights on as the sun goes down and the evening hours set in. It will help minimize shadows and make the transition easier.
- Keep physical activity consistent: The daylight to evening transition is easier for those who have had a full, active day, than those who have been in and out of a sleep state.
- Limit large evening meals: Large meals at nighttime can cause sleepless nights which can, in turn, lead to sleepiness throughout the day. This, in turn can trigger sundowning. Try to limit larger meals to earlier in the day.
- Keep track of their behavior. Try to keep track of your loved one’s sundowning triggers. Everyone is different. Knowing their triggers can help you minimize them.
Finally, when you notice your loved one experiencing sundowning symptoms, reassure them that the feeling will soon pass and they will feel better. If you can do so safely, allow them to walk around a bit. Try not to restrain them. It will only enhance the feelings of anxiety.
Sundown Syndrome is very real. And it can create anxious moments for everyone. Recognizing what it is, what triggers it and having tactics in mind to minimize its impact will help your loved one pass through the period with less stress making that transition from daylight to evening easier for everyone.