A man listens to music to manage sundown syndrome

How to Manage Sundown Syndrome During the Winter

Bethesda Health | February 20, 2019

For senior adults living with Alzheimer’s or dementia, as well as their caregivers and children, dealing with sundown syndrome can be an exhausting and exasperating experience. Its wide swings of symptoms and behaviors are alarming, and their causes are often difficult to pin down as they vary between individuals and over time. Here are some suggestions that may be helpful to anyone living with sundown syndrome.

Symptoms and Behaviors

Sundown syndrome, which also is called sundowners, is not an illness, but it has symptoms. People with Alzheimer’s or dementia that suffer from sundowners may be:

They may also exhibit significant changes in behavior, including:

What Causes Sundown Syndrome?

One in five people with Alzheimer’s will experience sundowners, but aside from some general advice, suggested ways to deal with it vary widely and are sometimes contradictory. The syndrome arrives with the earlier darkness of short winter days, so its underlying cause is commonly considered to be a disruption of the brain’s internal clock.

Other causes, alone or in combination, have also been suggested including: fatigue, too much noise in the home, shadows cast in a room, medication interactions, too much activity before bedtime, low blood pressure, dehydration, and low blood sugar.

Managing Sundown Syndrome

Other Suggestions

It may not be possible to stop the effects of sundowners completely, but it may be possible to make it manageable for both the senior and the caregiver. However, consult a physician if symptoms persist or deepen, despite everyone’s best efforts.

How Does the Caregiver Cope?

Though sundowners is frustrating for caregivers, stay calm. It takes a good deal of flexibility, patience, and creativity to deal with sundowners.

If you are concerned your senior may be up wandering around during the night, get a baby monitor or motion detector to let you know if your loved one is up and about.

Keep a journal and track things that may have triggered sundowning in the past. Perhaps there is a pattern you can stop or alter. However, keep in mind what was effective in stemming sundowners in the past may not always work.

It’s important not to argue with your senior. Reassure them. If their symptoms are not dangerous to themselves or others, don’t try to restrict their movements, but stay close by.

Most importantly, take care of yourself. You also need time to renew yourself. Find some moments to read, or just sit quietly and take a break.  Ask a friend or relative to fill in for you. Home health services are also available.

If you are seeking care for your senior loved one who is living with Alzheimer’s or dementia, schedule a tour at one of Bethesda’s many senior care communities across the St. Louis area, or contact us to learn more about Bethesda’s Memory Support services.


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