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Marjorie P. Lee Senior Living Blog

6 Ways To Help Loved Ones Cope With Sundowner's Syndrome

Posted by Kristin Davenport

Jul 17, 2018 7:09:00 AM


(Photos: Gary Kessler)

Of all the challenges that arise when a loved one has dementia, few are more terrifying for them or more difficult for you than sundowner’s syndrome. Sometimes called “sundowning syndrome,” this condition affects many with dementia during the evening. It’s marked by feelings of confusion, aggression, and anxiety, as well as a tendency to ignore directions and pace or wander.

For the sake of their happiness and mental health, it’s critical that you help them cope with this condition. Through the following methods, you can keep sundowner’s syndrome to a minimum and provide comfort and relief for your loved one.


1. Create a Comfortable Environment

One of the simplest ways to help your loved one cope with sundowner’s syndrome is to make their home environment as safe and comfortable as possible. Start by figuring out what temperature they prefer, and keep the AC or heater at that level. Then provide soft cushions and linens, and wash them on a regular basis.

Keep loud noises to a minimum, but if you have some calm, soothing music they like, put that on. These steps will ease your loved one’s anxiety and allow them to feel safe under any circumstances.


2. Maintain Good Lighting

Sundowner’s syndrome is associated with low lighting, so you can keep it to a minimum by keeping your loved one’s home well lit. Whenever it gets dark outside, draw the blinds and curtains and turn on lights inside their home. Illuminate as many dark or secluded areas as you can, so that they won’t have to deal with shadows as they move around inside.

Finally, consider setting up a small nightlight in case they have to get up at night, though don’t make it so bright that they won’t be able to sleep.


3. Promote Healthy Sleeping Habits

Your loved one is especially likely to develop sundowner’s syndrome if their sleep cycle is disrupted, so it’s important to make sure they sleep according to a regular schedule. This means not just setting times for them to wake up and go to sleep, but also eliminating habits that make it harder for them to sleep.

Encourage them to eat smaller dinners, reserving larger meals for earlier in the day; likewise, don’t let them take naps or consume sugar or caffeine after the early afternoon. Try to prevent them from watching TV late at night, as the bright colors and lights of a television can wake people up.


Encourage them to eat smaller dinners, reserving larger meals for earlier in the day; likewise, don’t let them take naps or consume sugar or caffeine after the early afternoon. Try to prevent them from watching TV late at night, as the bright colors and lights of a television can wake people up. 


4. Address Sleep-Related Health Issues

Any medical condition that prevents your loved one from sleeping well is likely to increase the severity of sundowner’s syndrome. One such condition is a urinary tract infection, which can cause pain and force them to get up and use the restroom at night; both of these effects make it harder to sleep.

Another common issue is sleep apnea, which technically doesn’t prevent your loved one from sleeping, but it does mean that they will not be as rested from the sleep they get. If you suspect your loved one has one of these health issues, take them to a doctor as soon as possible for diagnosis and treatment. The sooner they eliminate underlying problems like these, the easier it will be for them to deal with sundowner’s syndrome.


5. Keep Them Active


As much as possible given the state of your loved one’s health, encourage them to get out of their home and stay active during the day. This helps them deal with sundowner’s syndrome on multiple fronts.

Physical activity stems memory loss from dementia, leading your loved one to be less confused during the evening. It has also been shown to reduce anxiety, including the anxiety of sundowner’s syndrome. Finally, regular exercise will help your loved one sleep better, making it easier for them to follow a regular sleep schedule.


6. Consider Memory Care

Although there is currently no cure for dementia, there are a number of therapies that can slow down your loved one’s memory loss and help them cope with memory loss that does occur. These include art therapy, music therapy, and cognitive exercises, as well as therapy to promote your loved one’s physical wellbeing.

These programs can help them connect with others and feel more engaged with the world around them. One-to-one support and group activities create opportunities for open expression and encourage relationship building.

Marjorie P. Lee offers a full suite of memory care therapies to help your loved one cope with the effects of dementia. For more information about coping with with the effects of dementia, download our Dementia Guide or contact us. Dementia may be complicated and challenging, but we’re here to help.


dementia guide - marjorie p lee


Kristin Davenport

Written by: Kristin Davenport

Kristin Davenport is the Director of Communications for Episcopal Retirement Services (ERS). Kristin leads ERS’ efforts to share stories that delight and inspire through social media, online content, annual reports, magazines, newsletters, public relations, and events. Kristin earned her BFA in graphic design from Wittenberg University. She joined ERS after a 25 year career as a visual journalist and creative director in Cincinnati. Kristin has a passion for making Cincinnati a dementia-inclusive city. She is a Lead SAIDO Learning Supporter and a member of the Wellbeing Team at ERS. Kristin and her husband Alex live in Lebanon, Ohio with their 2 daughters. She also serves as a Trustee and the Secretary of the Lebanon Food Pantry.

Topics: Marjorie P Lee, sundowner's sundrome

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