Understanding Dementia: What is Sundowning?

Married couple of older adults watching the sunset

Caring for a family member living with memory loss is a blend of responsibility, love, and empathy. As challenging as it is rewarding, this role could take on an additional layer of complexity as the day transitions into night. This phenomenon, known as sundowning, introduces its own set of challenges, often catching even the most seasoned caregivers off guard.

At SaraBella Senior Living, offering compassionate memory care in Sarasota, Florida, we aim to shed light on this often misunderstood aspect of dementia care, providing caregivers with a clearer understanding of the condition. More than just offering insight, our team is sharing strategies designed to soothe the unsettling effects of sundowning. From creating a calm space to establishing a predictable routine, we are providing practical advice to help manage the symptoms of sundowning, ensuring both you and your family member can navigate this challenging condition with grace and empathy.

What is Sundowning, and What Are Its Causes?

Senior Woman Looking Out Window

Sundowning, or “Sundown Syndrome,” is a term often associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. It’s a worrying challenge that caregivers must be prepared to handle with both grace and understanding. 

This condition manifests as increased confusion, anxiety, and agitation during the late afternoon and evening hours. Understanding sundowning involves examining a wide range of triggers, including changes in the body’s internal clock, otherwise known as the circadian rhythm. Additional causes stem from environmental factors such as slight changes in lighting or simply the transition from day to night.

Symptoms of Sundowning

Understanding sundowning begins with recognizing its symptoms, which vary from undetected pain or discomfort to anxiety related to “end-of-day confusion.” Other common sundowning symptoms include:

  • Agitation and Restlessness: Individuals experiencing sundowning may become increasingly agitated or fidgety, unable to settle into one activity or place.
  • Confusion and Disorientation: The individual might start to question the time of day, the location, or even their sense of reality. This can be distressing for them and requires caregivers to be deft communicators, able to offer reassurance and gentle guidance.
  • Hallucinations: Visual or auditory hallucinations can be particularly distressing, not only for the person experiencing them but also for the caregiver who must witness this confusion and fear.
  • Mood Swings: The shift in mood can be sudden and unpredictable, often causing confusion and stress for both the caregiver and the individual.
  • Increased Anxiety: An intensified sense of apprehension or unease can dramatically affect the well-being of individuals, heightening tensions and disrupting even the most established of daily routines.

Becoming a Sundowning Savant: Tips for Caregivers

Developing coping strategies is instrumental in managing sundowning. Here are a few techniques that have provided solace for both caregivers and their family members:

  • Establishing a Routine: Rigorous adherence to a predictable routine can be a balm for the unpredictable nature of sundowning. Familiarity often breeds comfort and security.
  • Creating a Calming Living Space: Reducing environmental stressors such as dimming lights, playing soft music, and ensuring a comfortable temperature can help ease the transition into the evening.
  • Encouraging Physical Activity: Engaging in regular, gentle physical activity during the day can help to dispel excess energy and foster a more restful evening.
  • Effective Communication Techniques: Calm, clear, and simple communication can help to soothe the anxieties of sundowning and prevent misunderstandings.
  • Seeking Professional Help: At times, the challenge of sundowning demands professional intervention. It is crucial to remain proactive in seeking help from healthcare providers who can offer tailored solutions and support.

Senior Woman Sitting on Beach

At SaraBella Senior Living, we believe that the challenge of sundowning is an invitation to deepen bonds and grow in empathy for both the caregiver and their family member. By recognizing the symptoms, understanding the impact, and learning to cope, caregivers can transform what is often viewed as a traumatic stage of the day into one that is manageable, offering moments of gentle tranquility in life’s late afternoon. 

Offering memory care in Sarasota, Florida, our team at SaraBella Senior Living offers exceptional support for those with memory impairment. We understand the complexities that come with such conditions and strive to alleviate dementia symptoms through signature programming that is designed to enhance cognitive health.

To learn more about what we offer and how we can support you and your family member, we invite you to visit our website or schedule a personalized tour of our community.