What is ‘sundowning’ and why does it happen to many people with dementia?
The term “sundowning” is used to describe the phenomenon where individuals living with dementia experience increased confusion and behavioral changes during the late afternoon and night. However, it’s essential to recognize that “sundowning” is an oversimplified label that encompasses a wide range of behaviors in various contexts. When assessing these changes in dementia, it is crucial to have a comprehensive and accurate description of the person’s actual actions during these times rather than attributing everything to “sundowning.”
The set of behaviors commonly referred to as “sundowning” includes, but is not limited to, confusion, anxiety, agitation, pacing, and “shadowing” others. These behaviors can manifest differently depending on the stage of dementia, the individual’s personality and past behavioral patterns, and the presence of specific triggers.
The reason why such altered behaviors tend to happen at specific times of the day is not entirely understood. However, factors like fatigue, changes in the internal body clock, sensory overload, or disruptions in the environment may contribute to these behaviors.
When your loved one experiences these challenging behaviors, it is essential to respond with patience, understanding, and empathy. Here are some steps you can take:
Observe and identify triggers: Pay attention to the person’s environment and interactions to identify potential triggers for their behaviors. Minimizing or eliminating these triggers can help reduce distress.
Maintain a consistent routine: Establishing a predictable daily schedule can provide a sense of security and stability for individuals with dementia.
Create a calm environment: Ensure the environment is calming and comfortable, with minimal noise and distractions, especially during the late afternoon and evening.
Engage in calming activities: Offer activities that the person finds enjoyable and relaxing, such as listening to soothing music, looking at photo albums, or engaging in gentle exercises.
Be reassuring and comforting: Offer reassurance and comfort during episodes of confusion or anxiety. Use a soothing tone and simple, clear language.
Consult with healthcare professionals: If the behavioral changes are challenging to manage, consult with healthcare professionals experienced in dementia care. They can provide guidance and support tailored to your loved one’s specific needs.
Remember, each person’s experience with dementia is unique, so it’s crucial to approach their care with individualized attention and respect. By understanding and responding to their needs, you can provide a more supportive and comforting environment for your loved one.