Caregivers of family members with dementia often notice a particular set of symptoms that may start around dusk and last well into the evening. It is called sundown dementia, sundowner’s, or simply sundowning. The person with dementia usually becomes more disoriented, more agitated, more anxious, more confused and more unsettled during this time. This can happen because seniors with dementia may have a very hard time keeping up their energy for enough hours to get through the day. It can also happen because of sleep disturbances during the night, or an insufficient diet. There is no concrete cause of sundown dimentia, but there are several steps you can take as a caregiver to help reduce the severity of sundown dementia symptoms.
1. Manage Activities
Carefully planning the day’s activities will help. If sundown dementia episodes are related to exhaustion, it makes sense to get any strenuous and difficult tasks out of the way first, early in the day. Daytime naps can help with this problem as well.
Also, do not let the patient lie or sit around the house hour after hour, day after day. Everyone needs some form of exercise, as well as social contact. Work with the patient to devise a routine that includes physical activity. If strenuous activity is out of the question, at least encourage and accompany the senior on light activities such as walking or chair calisthenics.
It’s also beneficial to make sure that your loved one has someone to talk to. If she does not want to talk to outsiders, spend some time in free talk with her yourself every day. Foster relaxation, especially at sundown, with favorite books, movies or hobbies. Avoid activities that are difficult or frustrating.
2. Work on the Diet
Seniors are prone to inadequate or unbalanced diets. They may feel like they do not need to eat a special way because of the fact that they are no longer growing – an attitude that may begin in middle age. They may begin to dislike the taste of some foods they used to like. Elderly people who are on medications sometimes suffer from nutritional deficiencies related to the pills they have to take, a loss of appetite, or difficulty eating solid foods.
Whatever the reason, a senior’s diet deserves special attention. Sundown dementia will decrease if the elderly patient is well nourished and as healthy as possible. Avoid caffeine, especially as those evening hours draw near. Request that they have any small sweet treats they are going to eat early in the day.
A mini-meal in the afternoon will give dementia patients a boost of energy later in the day and stave off that feeling of fatigue and exhaustion. In general, try to remember that they need to be well-nourished to face the end of the day with plenty of stamina.
3. Control the Atmosphere
One thing that can really make a big difference in how much sundown dementia affects people is the atmosphere of the household. Try to create a warm and gentle atmosphere. Use lighting that is both soft enough to be pleasant and bright enough to create an atmosphere of alertness. Keep the room at a temperature that will make your senior comfortable and avoid any surprise visits or abrupt bursts of activity or noise.
Start a sundown routine of drinking a cup of herbal tea together to greet the evening with a positive attitude. Experiment with different types of music until you find the songs that help the elderly person in your life relax and enjoy the evening. Caregivers have a difficult job to do, but knowing how to deal with sundown dementia can change evenings from dreaded hassles to manageable family moments by adjusting the senior’s home environment to calmly welcome each evening.