Sundown Syndrome: How to Cope

Sundown syndrome is a behavior common in people with Alzheimer’s disease. It describes the episodes of confusion, anxiety, agitation, or disorientation that often occur at dusk and into the evening hours. The episodes may last a few hours or throughout the night, which is very draining not only on the caregiver, but on the person with Alzheimer’s disease as well.

While the exact reason why people with Alzheimer’s are more susceptible to sundowning is not known, there are ways to help ward off an episode:

  • Schedule the day so that the more difficult tasks are done early in the day.
  • Restrict sweets and drinks with caffeine to the morning hours and try serving a late afternoon snack or an early dinner.
  • Help the person relax with decaffeinated herbal tea or warm milk.
  • Keep the house or room well lit. Close the drapes before the sun goes down, so the person doesn’t watch it become dark outside. Even keep the room partially lit when going to bed, to reduce agitation that occurs when surroundings are dark or unfamiliar.
  • Plan more active days. A person who rests most of the day is likely to be awake at night.
  • Seek medical advice. Physical ailments, such as bladder or incontinence problems, could be making it difficult to sleep. The doctor may also be able to prescribe medication to help the person relax at night.
  • Change sleeping arrangements. Allow the person to sleep in a different bedroom, in a favorite chair or wherever it’s most comfortable.

If the person wakes during the night and is upset, experts suggest:

  • Approaching the person in a calm manner.
  • Finding out if there is something he or she needs.
  • Gently reminding him or her that it is nighttime.
  • Avoiding arguments or asking for explanations.
  • Reassuring the person that everything is alright and everyone is safe.

If you need extra assistance providing care to a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease, or simply need a break, Visiting Angels of the San Francisco Bay area has professional caregivers who offer Alzheimer’s and respite care services. Contact us in Alameda County at (510) 284-0000 or in Santa Clara County at (408) 735-0977 for more information.