Sundowner’s syndrome is very common in seniors with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia; unfortunately experts are not sure what are the causes and it can be very frustrating for family members and caregivers to deal with. Knowing what to expect and how to try to treat the symptoms is the best way to help care for seniors with Sundowner’s syndrome. In this article we would like to offer some tips on how to care for an elderly person with Sundowner’s syndrome.
Sundowner’s syndrome gets its name from the fact that symptoms usually do not present until the evening as the sun goes down. While experts are not sure why this happens, they believe that it is caused by the accumulation of everything that happened during the day which leads seniors to feel overwhelmed or stressed at the end of the day. Many seniors with this disease get restless and agitated in the evening and begin to feel like they need to go somewhere or do something. Family caregivers who notice that their loved one wants to leave the house should make sure that they monitor them closely so that they do not go out alone or go out and get hurt. Sundowner’s syndrome can also cause seniors to feel sad or scared, so family caregivers should look for these symptoms as well if they believe that their loved one is suffering from Sundowner’s syndrome.
The best way to care for an elderly person with Sundowner’s syndrome is to learn their patterns and behaviors so that you will know what to expect on a daily basis and can learn what calms them down and what does not. Make sure that your loved one stays on a regular sleep cycle as that is the best way to keep their symptoms under control. Family caregivers should discourage naps during the afternoon and can try light therapy in the morning to get their loved one awake and ready for the day. In addition to light therapy family caregivers should make sure that they keep their house well lit during the day to keep their loved ones from napping. Once a regular sleep schedule has been established it is very helpful to establish a daily routine that your loved one can follow. Seniors should try to do their normal daily activities around the same time each day so that they will not feel overwhelmed by their activities at the end of the day. Having a set routine allows seniors to know what to expect each day so that they can adjust to their schedule over time.
Family caregivers should make sure that they provide their loved ones with enough stimulation during the day so that they will not feel restless in the evening. Activities may vary depending on your loved one’s interests and physical abilities, but some common activities are stretching exercises, walking, talking with others, word games and puzzles. Allowing seniors to engage in different activities during the day makes them feel useful and happy, but stimulation should be decreased as it gets closer to bedtime so that they have time to calm down before it is time for them to go to sleep. Activity does not have to be stopped completely, but seniors should engage in calmer activities in the evening such as listening to soft, calming music and should avoid having visitors over during this time. As activity is reduced, caffeine should be reduced near bedtime as well. It is best for seniors to limit their caffeine intake to the morning hours and drink non caffeinated beverages for the rest of the day, especially in the evening when it is close to bedtime. Limiting caffeine intake to the morning allows the effects of the caffeine to wear off as the day goes on so that seniors will not feel wide awake and restless when they should be getting ready to go to sleep. Family caregivers can provide their loved ones with non-caffeinated drinks such as herbal tea or milk in the evening to help them prepare for bed.
Family caregivers can also consult with their loved one’s doctor. Many symptoms can be managed with medications that can help regulate their mood. There are a variety of different medications that can be used depending on the symptoms that your loved one displays so it is a good idea to talk with their doctor and then bring in your loved one for a consultation so that their doctor can tell you which medication will work best for them. Herbal supplements such as Vitamin E, gingko biloba, and St. John’s Wort have been found to help with Sundowner’s syndrome but family caregivers should always talk to their loved one’s doctor before starting them on any type of medication or supplements.
Family Caregivers that are struggling with providing care to their loved ones with Sundowner’s syndrome should ask other family members for help or consider hiring a homecare service to assist them on a regular basis so that they will not have to deal with caring for their loved one alone every day. Having a good support team can make a big difference for caretakers. Having a support team makes caring for a loved one with Sundowner’s syndrome easier by providing a group of people who can offer their help and can take over in an emergency or when the primary caregiver needs some time to take care of themselves.
Additional articles on this topic in our home care blog: