By Jim Herlihy | Alzheimer’s Association
For most people, the end of daylight saving time on Sunday, Nov. 6, means an extra hour of sleep. But for people living with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, it may accelerate the disorientation that comes with “sundowning” that can last through the winter months.
For the more than 159,000 Colorado family members who serve as unpaid caregivers for 76,000 loved ones living with Alzheimer’s disease, the time change and prolonged hours of darkness provide a caution that they may see behavioral changes in their loved ones in the weeks and months ahead.
What is sundowning?
The term sundowning covers a group of symptoms that often occurs in people with dementia. Those symptoms can include anxiety, sadness, restlessness, hallucinations, delusions, sudden mood swings, increased confusion and energy surges. Sundowning generally occurs during the late afternoon and early evening hours, and may be associated with disruption in the sleep and wake cycles, which the daylight saving time change will exacerbate.
“While the cause of sundowning is unclear, there are steps that families can take to help manage sundowning in their loved one,” said Meg Donahue, community engagement director for the Alzheimer’s Association of Colorado. “The more we understand about sundowning, the better we can help our loved ones cope with the discomfort it can cause them.”
Tips for coping with
Following are tips that the Alzheimer’s Association offers to caregivers to help them manage sundowning in their loved ones:
• Get plenty of rest so you, the caregiver, are less likely to exhibit unintended nonverbal behavior, which can inadvertently contribute to the stress level of the person living with Alzheimer’s. People living with dementia have a very sensitive emotional radar and readily pick up the feelings of those around them. Try to always promote a sense of safety and security.
• Schedule activities, such as doctor appointments, trips and bathing, in the morning or early afternoon when the person living with dementia is more alert.
• Make notes about what happens before sundowning events and try to identify triggers.
• Reduce stimulation during the evening hours (e.g. TV, doing chores, loud music, etc.). These distractions may add to the person’s confusion.
• Offer a larger meal at lunch and keep the evening meal lighter.
• Keep the home well-lit in the evening. Adequate lighting may reduce the person’s confusion.
• Do not physically restrain the person. It can make agitation worse.
• Allow the person to pace back and forth, as needed, under supervision.
• Exercise during the day is a wonderful way for the person to expend their energy. Take a walk in the park together or maybe play some music and clear a space to dance. Taking a walk with the person is also a good way to help reduce his or her restlessness.
• Talk to your physician about the best times of day for taking medication.
• When behavioral interventions and environmental changes do not work, discuss the situation with your doctor.
Alzheimer’s disease is the seventh-leading cause of death of people in the United States. More than 6.5 million Americans, including are living with the disease, which currently has no prevention or cure. All programs and services of the Alzheimer’s Association are provided to families at no charge, including a 24/7 Helpline (800-272-3900) staffed by trained professionals. To learn more, go to www.alz.org.