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The Effects of Sundowning in the Wake of Daylight Savings

Daylight savings time can affect even the healthiest of individuals, but those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia have a particularly hard time adjusting to disruptions in their routines. Less daylight and even the slightest changes in one’s daily schedule can bring on sudden emotional and behavioral challenges, often referred to as sundowning.

What is Sundowning?

Sundowning is a behavioral and cognitive reaction elderly individuals can experience as the sun goes down at the end of the day. You may also hear it referred to as late-day confusion, sunset dementia, or sundown syndrome. Sundowning can range from mild confusion and irritation, all the way to sudden onset fear, depression, paranoia, anger, or anxiety. The emotions may display as the twilight hour approaches and be exacerbated by stress, exhaustion, or over-stimulation.

How to Spot a Sundowning Episode

Sundowning episodes can display differently between individuals, but may include one or more of the following behaviors:

  1. Emotional outbursts, crying, or yelling
  2. Agitation or restlessness
  3. Visual or auditory hallucinations or delusions
  4. Hiding items
  5. Rocking back and forth
  6. Uncharacteristically violent behavior
  7. Wandering, pacing, or shadowing loved ones or caretakers
  8. Increased stubbornness
  9. General confusion
  10. Insomnia

Responding to a Sundowning Episode

If you notice your loved one is experiencing a sundowning episode, it’s key to remain calm. Try to avoid raising your voice or touching them unexpectedly. Negotiating or arguing with them will likely make the situation worse, so focus your efforts on redirecting them to a relaxing activity or a quieter environment. If they are confused or upset, validate their emotions and experiences and offer comfort in the form of familiar music, items, or stories.

Preventing a Sundowning Episode

Routines and schedules are a great way to prevent sundowning. Avoid over-stimulating your loved one in the evenings by choosing relaxing activities in quiet environments. If you notice your loved one is particularly sensitive to sunlight and darkness, consider light therapy in the mornings to boost their moods or dimmable lights around bedtime to signify the end of the day. A healthy sleep schedule and balanced diet are also incredibly important to keeping sundowning to a minimum. 

Sundowning doesn’t just happen twice a year following daylight savings time. The change of time and daylight exposure can certainly exacerbate issues for some individuals, but sundowning can also occur year round due to a variety of causes. Sundowning can be caused by hormonal imbalances, difficulties with sleep, fatigue, stress, boredom, discomfort with the dark (from fear or bad eyesight), or unmet needs that they are having trouble communicating clearly. If your loved one is experiencing sundowning, talk to a medical professional for more information.

Willow River is Here to Help

At Willow River, we understand the challenges Alzheimer’s and dementia can bring. If you have questions or need help, Willow River has the answers and resources to assist you in this transition. Call Willow River Senior Living at 888-546-1886 or contact us through our website to start the conversation today.