Tips to Help Manage Sundowner’s Syndrome

Posted by Enlivant support center on November 2, 2018
It’s daylight savings time again. While we get to sleep for an extra hour when we reset clocks in the fall, this change can negatively impact seniors with sundown syndrome. According to the Mayo Clinic, sundowning is described as a state of confusion at the end of the day and into the night that can cause anxiety, aggression, or sleep disturbances. Sundowning often affects people with dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease. While there’s no cure, here are 5 tips for sundowning that you can use to help ease its effects on your loved ones as we adjust our clocks. 

1. Illuminate 
To counter the darker evenings and resulting anxiety, turn on lights before it gets dark. Keeping living spaces well-lit will also help prevent falls or accidents.

2. Go gradual 
With the time shift, it’s likely seniors with dementia will notice the hour difference the most during mealtimes and bedtime. If possible, gradually adjust meal and sleep times over the course of a few days, versus jumping to a full hour.  

3. Limit naps
As seniors adjust to daylight savings, they may have an urge to nap more often or for longer periods of time. Encourage short catnaps, as they’re less likely to disrupt sleep and could help to manage sundowning. 

4. Busy days and calm nights
Seniors with sundowner’s syndrome should stay active during daylight hours. Plan outings, activities, and exercises for early in the day. Keeping busy will also help reduce napping during the day. Evenings should be quiet, peaceful, and could include a calming activity, such as watching a movie. If seniors get restless or anxious adjusting to daylight savings, try playing relaxing music at night, which has additional benefits as well.

5. Go decaf
It’s a good idea for seniors with sundowning to avoid caffeine in the evenings, as it can affect sleep and increase anxiety. Try chamomile tea which is a natural sleep aid. Or ask his/her doctor about melatonin supplements.   

We hope everyone has a smooth transition through the time change. If your senior parent is anxious in the evenings, especially if they also struggle with dementia, try using these tips to come up with a sundowning care plan to help them better manage the changes in daylight. 

The Mayo Clinic
Alzheimer’s Association