What is Sundowning, and How Can Memory Care Help?

If you care for a family member or loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, you may have noticed that they become more irritable around late afternoon into the evening. This isn’t just in your head; it’s an occurrence called sundowning. 

Sundowning can cause individuals with memory impairments to experience increased confusion, agitation, and anxiety. At Uplands Village, we understand that memory loss has its challenges. One of our purposes is to share information and resources about dementia caregiving and our memory care services in Pleasant Hill, Tennessee. 

We’re taking a look at what sundowning is, how to manage it, and when it could be time to consider memory care for your family member. 

What is Sundowning? 

Sundowning refers to the increased restlessness, anxiety, and irritability that an individual with dementia may experience at dusk, evening, and through the night. Sundowning can disturb healthy sleep routines for an individual and their caregiver, resulting in ongoing issues during the day. 

While the exact cause of sundowning is not understood, some factors are believed to contribute to these symptoms, including: 

  • Brain changes related to Alzheimer’s impacting the body’s “internal clock” 
  • Mental and physical exhaustion 
  • Unmet needs, such as hunger or thirst 
  • Pain or discomfort that the person is unable to communicate
  • Changes in routine or daily structure 

How to Minimize Symptoms of Sundowning 

Whatever the cause, dealing with sundowning can be alarming and frustrating and make it challenging to communicate and care for your loved one effectively. However, there are several steps you can take to create a calming and comfortable environment and prevent sundowning symptoms. 

Establish a routine. Having a daily routine can help those with memory challenges, as it can provide a sense of structure and familiarity and reduce feelings of anxiety and stress. Sticking to a daily schedule can also help reduce feelings of confusion that come with sundowning. 

When planning your days, try to plan activities in the morning and early afternoon when your family member is more alert. Plus, keeping them active and alert during the days will promote a more relaxed evening and nighttime. 

Create a calming environment in the evening hours. Stimulants—like caffeine, bright lights, and loud noises—can worsen sundowning symptoms. In the afternoon and evening hours, try to create a soothing and comfortable environment at home. You can play soft music, prepare a favorite snack, or even go on a short walk. Try to keep the lights on to minimize confusion. 

Communicate respectfully. Sometimes, when your family member is disoriented or agitated, the best thing you can do is simply ask them what would make them feel better. Even if they can no longer verbally communicate, speak to them in a kind, calming manner and try to identify what would ease their stress.

Knowing When To Seek Help

Even after creating a calming environment and trying certain strategies, it can still be challenging to manage sundowning and dementia symptoms. If problems persist, it could be time to consider other options, like a memory care community. Sometimes, recognizing and understanding that you can no longer provide the necessary care and attention for your loved one is the best thing you can do for them. 

Many families struggle with knowing when they should look into memory care options. Here are some things to consider: 

  • Sundowning persists, even after trying preventative measures
  • Sundowning or other behaviors lead to dangerous actions, like wandering or physical violence 
  • Your caregiving responsibilities have prevented you from focusing on your own health 
  • Your family member’s dementia has begun to impact their physical health, such as falling or significant weight loss 
  • They are showing increased aggression and suspicion toward you or other caregivers
  • Visions changes have led to increased dependence

These are a few warning signs that it could be time for memory care, but every family and situation is different. Sometimes, though, you will just know. 

Memory Care at Uplands Village

Uplands Village, a life plan community in Pleasant Hill, Tennessee, offers holistic memory care services that serve individuals with Alzheimer’s and other dementia-related issues. Our warm and inviting neighborhood features innovative programming to help resident members experience joy, build relationships, and reduce stress.

Our care partners receive extensive training in the Eden Alternative® philosophy of resident-directed care, giving residents the power to make their own decisions and ensure they are treated with dignity.

We know that it can be challenging to manage sundowning in a parent or loved one. At Uplands Village, we partner with families to offer support and instill peace of mind. To learn more about our memory care community in Pleasant Hill, contact our team today

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