Understanding and Minimizing the Effects of Sundowner’s Syndrome

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Many of us view the setting sun as a calming and comforting sign that daily stressors can finally be replaced by free time and relaxation. However, if your loved one is living with dementia, you know that the sunset can hold a very different meaning.

In an effect known as sundowner’s syndrome, those with dementia exhibit sudden behavior changes in the early evening. You’ve likely watched in confusion as the sunset triggered anxiety, sadness, increased confusion, and other extreme emotions in your loved one.

By understanding the causes of sundowner’s syndrome, you can identify your loved one’s triggers and learn the best strategies to minimize the effects of this phenomenon.

Why Does Sundowner’s Syndrome Occur?

Though the exact cause of sundowner’s syndrome is unknown, experts offer a few theories. Some say that the cumulative effects of hunger, thirst, pain, and hormonal imbalances peak around sunset and trigger emotional and behavioral changes. Others suggest that the evening hours tap into deep fears about feeling unsafe and insecure, leading to negative reactions.

Common Sundowner’s Triggers

The first step to minimizing your loved one’s sundowner’s syndrome involves identifying the most likely triggers. Do any of these sound familiar?

  • Too much late afternoon activity
  • End-of-day fatigue
  • Low lighting and shadows
  • Disruption of the body’s internal clock

Implement a Reliable and Structured Routine

Developing a clear daily routine is a simple yet powerful way to reduce the impact of sundowner’s syndrome. Many caregivers have found success by maximizing activities earlier in the day and minimizing daytime napping. This rhythm encourages your loved one into natural evening relaxation. Be sure to reduce stressful tasks or unwanted changes around dusk and night as well.

Use Sound As a Calming Tool

Music is extremely powerful, especially for those with dementia. Different forms of music can be used throughout the day to achieve different purposes, all of which will minimize sundowner’s syndrome. Try instrumental music in the morning, sing-along or show tunes during the most active parts of the late morning and early afternoon, and calming piano music later in the afternoon and evening.

Pay attention to what works most effectively, and even as dementia advances, you can help your loved one thrive without the burden of sundowner’s syndrome.