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How to ease sundowning symptoms

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Understanding how to help ease sundowning symptoms is immensely important.

Sundowning is a symptom of dementia and Alzheimer's that can cause older people to become restless, agitated and confused as day turns to night. However, there are steps you can take to help support older people affected by this condition.

In this article, we'll provide you with some ideas you can use to ease sundowning symptoms for your loved one.

Options that could help ease sundowning symptoms

There are a number of actions you can recommend to help ease sundowning symptoms for your loved one. These include:

1) Avoiding long naps during the day

Encouraging your loved one to avoid napping for long periods of time during the day should increase the chance of them being able to sleep well throughout the night.

2) Limiting noise

Try to reduce the noise levels of TVs and radios from late afternoon onward. You could opt to replace this with soft, calming music from your loved one's younger years.

3) Adapting light

Try to close your loved one's curtains and turn the lights on before the evening sets in to ease the transition between day and night.

Also, be aware that changing shadows, reflections and colours associated with the sun going down can result in confusion for people with dementia.

Your loved one might benefit from nightlights if they're likely to get up during the darker hours, or a lightbox that contains full-spectrum lights.

4) Establishing routine

Establishing a regular routine can help those affected to settle into a daily rhythm that could ease sundowning symptoms.

Try to ensure that anything stimulating (such as a house visit) takes place early on in the day, and avoid scheduling in more than one major activity per day.

5) Changing diet

Encourage your loved one to avoid consuming foodstuffs likely to impact on sleep (such as caffeine, sugar or alcohol), especially towards the end of the day. Also, avoid larger meals during the evening.

6) Medication

Your loved one's doctor may opt to recommend medication with a view to reducing sundowning symptoms.

However, it’s best to approach this with caution. Many medications can have an adverse effect on sleep as a side-effect.

7) Cueing and prompting

Consider ways of subtly cueing and prompting your loved one to help orient them to the fact that night time is approaching.

Dementia can upset a person’s natural body clock, so they may simply be unaware and unprepared for the coming of night.

Consider routines to help subtly cue them to the concept of night approaching. This could include:

  • Locking the front door
  • Drawing the curtains together
  • Getting changed into your own pyjamas/dressing gown (if you’re staying the night)
  • Encouraging them to do the same

This process can be gently introduced throughout the evening, giving them plenty of time to get used to the notion that bedtime is approaching.

Use these tips to help ease sundowning symptoms. If you have any specific concerns, be sure to speak to a trained medical professional.

Find out how live-in care specialists could help your loved one stay settled at home by speaking to our friendly team.

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