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Sundowning: Preventing and Managing

Some people with dementia become more disoriented as the day move towards sunset. Confusion, agitation, anxiety and restlessness increase. They may pace, wander or be resistant to redirection. Sundowning is a term frequently used to describe these behaviors, which depending on the time or year and geographical location, may start as early as mid-afternoon and continue through the night.

The pattern of sundowning is unique to each person. Some people with dementia exhibit these behaviors frequently, while in others it occurs rarely or not at all. However, when it happens, it can upset the person with dementia as well as the family and professional caregivers.

While no single approach can reduce or eliminate sundowning, here are some tips that may prove helpful:

  1. Remain calm. People with dementia understand the body language of others. If you communicate emotional tension and anxiety in your body language, your loved one is likely to reflect that too. Use quiet language, gentle touch and relaxed breathing as ways to reassure your loved one.
  2. Increase artificial lighting at the end of day. The reduced light at sunset may contribute to sundowning behaviors. An hour before the sun starts to go down, turn on all the lights in the room, so when the sun sets, it will have less impact on your loved one.
  3. Try a late afternoon nap. Being tired may be a factor in sundowning behavior. A preventative nap late in the day may prove helpful to your loved one. To facilitate afternoon sleep, limit caffeine intake to the morning.

You may need to customize your approach to fit your loved one's needs and preferences.