10 Feb What Is Sundowning? Get the Facts
Have you heard of sundowning? It’s a common symptom associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Millions of seniors who suffer from dementia experience sundowning. As a result, it’s important for friends and family members of seniors to familiarize themselves with this symptom. In this post, we’re going to discuss sundowning and how affects seniors with dementia.
Overview of Sundowning
Also known as sundown syndrome or late-day confusion, sundowning is a symptom of dementia that’s characterized by the confusion during the evenings. Dementia, of course, directly involves confusion. Seniors with dementia have trouble remembering things to the point where it adversely affects their daily life.
With sundowning, however, confusion occurs more frequently and/or severely during the evening. A senior with dementia may have a level of cognitive function during the daylight hours, but once the sun goes down, he or she experiences confusion. The term “sundowning” simply refers to dementia-related confusion that occurs during the evening.
How Common Is Sundowning?
Sundowning is very common in seniors with dementia. According to the The Alzheimer’s Association, research shows up to one in five seniors who suffer dementia experience sundowning.
What Causes Sundowning?
Unfortunately, it’s unknown what, exactly, causes sundowning. A report published by the National Institute on Aging suggests that sundowning could be attributed to the way in which dementia affects a senior’s biological clock.
We all have a biological clock that’s responsible for regulating various tasks within our bodies. Known as the circadian rhythm, it plays a key role in our cognitive health. Dementia, however, can alter a senior’s circadian rhythm, thus the senior’s brain is no longer able to correctly identify when it’s daytime and when it’s nighttime. Some researchers believe this is why seniors who suffer from dementia frequently experience sundowning.
Another theory is that lack of sleep associated with dementia causes or contributes to sundowning in seniors. There’s a strong correlation between dementia and sleep disorders. Many seniors who suffer from dementia have trouble falling asleep and/or staying asleep. When a senior suffers from a chronic sleep disorder that prevents him or her from getting adequate high-quality sleep, the senior may experience sundowning.
Signs of Sundowning
If you know a senior who suffers from dementia, you should be on the lookout for sundowning. As previously mentioned, roughly 20% of seniors who suffer from dementia experience sundowning. By understanding the signs of this condition, you’ll be able to take the necessary steps to help the senior manage it.
While no two cases are the same, typical sighs of sundowning include the following:
- Extreme fatigue during the evening.
- Losing or misplacing items during the evening.
- Mood swings during the evening.
- Increased hunger or thirst during the evening.
- Anxiety or fear during the evening.
- Physical pain during the evening.
- Muscle tremors during the evening.
How to Help a Senior Cope With Sundowning
Like with dementia, there’s currently no known cure for sundowning. The good news is that there are things you can do to help a senior cope with sundowning.
For starters, you should encourage the senior to follow a schedule that involves waking at or around the same time each morning and going to sleep at or around the same time each night. Sundowning is believed to be associated with a disturbance of a senior’s circadian rhythm. Senior’s who experience sundowning have a biological clock that’s unable to correctly distinguish between day and night. By encouraging the senior to stay on a schedule, you can help his or her body adjust, which may reduce the frequency and severity of sundowning.
Sunlight may prove beneficial for seniors who experience sundowning. Seniors who get little or no sun exposure are more likely to have a disturbed circadian rhythm than their counterparts who get an adequate amount of sunlight. Exposure to sunlight synchronizes a senior’s circadian rhythm so that his or her body can correctly tell when it’s day and when it’s daytime and when it’s nighttime. Therefore, you should encourage the senior to spend more time outdoors, especially on bright and sunny days.
Embracing a healthy diet may also help seniors cope with sundowning. Nutrition, or lack thereof, can affect a senior’s cognitive function. Seniors who follow a poor diet are more likely to experience noticeable symptoms of dementia, including sundowning, than their counterparts who embrace a healthy and nutritious diet.
Of course, you should discuss your concerns over sundowning with the senior’s physician. The senior’s physician can offer personalized recommendations on how to treat and manage sundowning. By following his or her advance, you’ll ensure the senior receives the best level of care.
Sundowning is a symptom of dementia that’s characterized by confusion during the evening. Most seniors who suffer from dementia will experience confusion, but sundowning specifically involves confusion during the evening after the sun has gone down.