Sundown syndrome — also called sundowning — is a behavior common in people with Alzheimer’s disease. It describes the confusion, anxiety, agitation, or disorientation that often occur at dusk and into the evening hours. The episodes may last a few hours or throughout the night.
While the exact cause of sundown syndrome is not known, experts believe there are several contributing factors. These include physical and mental exhaustion (after a long day), and a shift in the “internal body clock” caused by the change from daylight to dark. Some people with Alzheimer’s disease have trouble sleeping at night, which may contribute to their disorientation. Medication that can cause agitation or confusion also may contribute to this syndrome.
Sundown syndrome can be draining for the person with Alzheimer’s disease and his or her caregivers. Here are some suggestions for helping a loved one with sundown syndrome cope:
- Schedule the day so that the more difficult tasks are done early in the day, when the person is less likely to become agitated.
- Watch the person’s diet and eating habits. Restrict sweets and drinks with caffeine to the morning hours. Try serving the person a late afternoon snack or early dinner.
- To help the person relax, try decaffeinated herbal tea or warm milk.
- Keep the house or room well lit. Close the drapes before the sun goes down so that the person doesn’t watch it become dark outside.
- If the person falls asleep on the sofa or in a chair, let him or her stay there. Don’t wake the person to go to bed.
- Try distracting the person with activities he or she enjoys. Soothing music or a favorite video may help, as well.
- Encourage the person to engage in some physical activity — such as walking, if able — during the day. This may help him or her to sleep better at night.