My wife has Alzheimer’s. Can she be affected by “Sundowning?”

“Sundowning” is the name of condition that results in a person becoming increasingly confused or agitated as the day wears on. While the actual cause of it is unknown, its occurrence can be somewhat predictable once a pattern begins.

Fatigue, low lighting and increased shadows — the basis for the sundowning label — are factors known to bring on the condition. As they become more prominent during the day, an individual with Alzheimer’s tends to become more confused.

Certain steps can be taken to make things easier on individuals with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers. For example, urging your loved one to nap after lunch, or at least have some “quiet time” during his or her daily schedule is a good idea. Relaxation can help a person “recharge” to deal with the rest of the day with less confusion or agitation.

Create a good setting to promote relaxation by considering all five senses:

  1. put on relaxing music,
  2. get your loved one to a comfortable chair or bed,
  3. burn incense or a fragrant candle,
  4. dim the lights,
  5. turn on something that can create “white noise,” such as a bubbling water or a fan.

You can also gently massage her hands and arms with pleasant lotion. Always soothingly inform your loved one of the changes you are introducing, especially if you’re going to turn the lights off altogether or otherwise drastically change the atmosphere. This relaxation period is an excellent time for an outside volunteer (a neighbor, friend, church volunteer or other family member) to get involved your loved one’s care. It’s also a good way to get you, or whoever the regular caregiver is, a break from regular duties.

Since shadows and darkness are what tends to make “sundowners” confused, make sure there is plenty of lighting after the relaxation period, and throughout the rest of the day. Placing nightlights throughout the living quarters is a good way to keep lighting up.

To avert problems with sundowners who are in non-typical settings, such as a hospital room, be sure to keep familiar things on hand. These could include pillows, stuffed animals, a special radio or quilt and so on.

As a person’s typical sundowning time period begins, try to keep him or her very busy. If they feel they are involved in something worthwhile, it could be enough of a distraction to lean toward neutralizing the agitated, confused behavior.

More information on this topic, and others about living with Alzheimer’s disease, can be found in our free Alzheimer’s Resource Guide.  Whether you’re in Illinois or beyond, Alzheimer’s disease is a difficult challenge with which to deal. Don’t try to do it without help.