Tips on How to Manage Sundowner’s Syndrome


Providing in home care for an elderly loved one is challenging. It’s even more difficult when the elderly person has some type of brain disorder or Alzheimer’s. When we see sudden negative behavioral changes, it can cause us to feel alarmed. For instance, watching a loved one deal with Sundowner’s syndrome is often frightening.

Sundowner’s syndrome is often referred to as sundowners or sundowning. It’s a symptom of dementia or other brain disorders and causes early evening behavioral changes. Anxiety, restlessness, delusions, hallucinations, and sudden mood swings are common signs. The person with Sundowner’s may also scream, cry, become disoriented, angry, or violent.

Instead of responding in fear, we should find positive ways to cope with this occurrence. Here are some tips for helping our loved ones deal with sundowning.

1. Learn to recognize the triggers. There’s always something that causes sundowning to occur. Learning to recognize these triggers gives you control over the situation. For instance, does your loved one enjoy tea and cookies in the afternoon? It’s possible that caffeine or sugar is a factor in their sundowning. Does the household become loud or chaotic in the afternoon? If so, the change in environment is possibly a trigger. If possible, make note of what was occurring when they started to exhibit sundowning symptoms. You can then take steps to eliminate or reduce the triggers.

2. Create an environment that supports sleep. Anxiety and confusion is often times caused by an overload of sensory stimulation. Reduce noise, visual, and physical stimulation in the bedroom or wherever the elderly person is sleeping. A cool, dark, and relaxed room is ideal for sleeping. If it’s not possible to keep the room dark and quiet, consider ear plugs, light-blocking curtains, or an eye mask.

3. Distract your loved one from their problems. Provide the opportunity to perform some of their favorite activities. Make sure they spend time with people or animals that make them happy. Sometimes we forget about the importance of fun and relaxation. But in home care doesn’t mean your loved one has to just sit around watching television. Maybe they do have a favorite show, and it’s fine for them to watch. But with our caregivers, they have the option to go for a supervised walk outdoors, participate in activities, or just sit and talk.

4. Consider herbal supplements and medications. Drugs that treat anxiety and depression can sometimes help. However, when a person takes multiple medications to treat multiple issues, adding more medications can cause side effects. And ask about the safety of natural supplements. Supplements such as magnesium and melatonin are said to have stress-reducing and calming properties. Make sure to discuss this issue with your loved one’s doctor.

5. Consider aromatherapy. Some people respond favorably to certain scents. Frankincense, chamomile, lavender and rose are essentials oils credited with having calming properties. There are several others, including blue tansy, that you can also try. Test different scents to see which ones, if any, give a favorable result. Not everyone responds to aromatherapy but it’s worth a try.

6. Fill the house with music and meditative sounds. AARP suggests playing calming or meditative music at the first sign of sundowning. Neurological research has found that music improves the mood of people with brain disorders. It also boosts their cognitive skills and reduces their need for certain mood-altering medications. Classical music and smooth jazz are genres to consider. Instrumental performances by piano or guitar are often relaxing. To induce sleep, nature sounds like rain or ocean waves are a good choice. White noise also helps some people sleep peacefully.

Controlling Sundowner’s Symptoms

It’s possible to take control of Sundowner’s syndrome. You’ll need to closely observe your loved one to see what triggers their episodes. When providing senior care, we must remember to show empathy and have patience at all times. You may need to try several different approaches before you see results. But the effort is worth it, to ease your stress and help your loved one. For more information on how our caregivers can help, contact Always Best Care today at (855) 470-2273 and schedule a free care consultation.

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