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Tips for Caregivers With Sundowning Patients

If you are a caregiver who is currently or has previously worked with patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia, then there’s a good chance you know how challenging it can be when they struggle with sundowning syndrome.

Sundowning is a psychologically-based occurrence that causes sleep disturbances and is noted to be especially prominent in people in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s disease and mixed dementia. It can manifest in several ways: as a disturbance of the patient’s biological clock, resulting in mixing up day and night; or fear of shadows and low-lit places in those with Alzheimer’s, for example. Other symptoms of sundowning include a general sense of disorientation, less need for sleep, and acting out at night.

If any of this sounds familiar, here are some useful tips for home care workers who have patients with sundowning syndrome:

  • Keep the patient’s home well-lit in the evening. This reduces any chances of panicked or disturbed behavior from overexposure to darkness or shadows and generally promotes a sense of calm and well-being, especially in those whose sundowning manifests in the confusion of day and night.
  • During the day, make sure to stay active through physical or mental exercise as is appropriate for your patient. A walk in the park, reading a book, or watching a movie can all be great daily activities to help an Alzheimer’s or dementia sufferer use up some of that excess energy so they can rest at night more easily.
  • When it’s nighttime, minimize stressful situations at home. Soft music and quiet activities are best for keeping agitation at a minimum. Too much stimulation from watching TV or a eating a large dinner (especially with the inclusion of alcohol or caffeine) can result in states of irritability, confusion, or even delirium. As their caregiver, find quiet, soothing ways to best meet the needs of your patient.
  • Be sure to look out for specific things that can trigger sundowning behavior. For instance, certain TV shows, loud noises, children, pets, etc. Do what you can to minimize triggering behaviors so your patient can keep calm and relax.
  • Lastly–and this is an important tip for all home care assistants–make sure not to ignore your own needs. Stay as well-rested as you can and keep your own stress to a minimum. You will not only be better-prepared to interact with sundowning patients, but with most other aspects of life in general.

When caring for patients with Alzheimer’s disease or mixed dementia, sundowning can be difficult to handle. However, with a calm, stress-free attitude and these helpful tips in mind, it should be a lot easier from here on out.

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