Sundowning (changes in behaviour at dusk)

As the clocks go back this weekend, and with evenings becoming darker earlier, Helen Green who works on Dementia UK’s Admiral Nurse Dementia Helpline talks about how she united one family troubled by sundowning 

Sundowning is a term used for the changes in behaviour that occur in the evening, around dusk. Some people who have been diagnosed with dementia experience a growing sense of agitation or anxiety at this time.

Sundowning symptoms might include a compelling sense that they are in the wrong place. The person with dementia might say they need to go home, even if they are home; or that they need to pick the children up, even if that is not the case. Other symptoms might include shouting or arguing, pacing, or becoming confused about who people are or what’s going on.

This article at Dementia UK explains how the Dementia Helpline supported one family troubled by sundowning

See also Dementia UK’s leaflet on Good habits for bedtime

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Practical tips on preventing sundowning

  • Follow a routine during the day that contains activities the person enjoys
  • Going outside for a walk or visiting some shops is good exercise
  • Limit the person’s intake of caffeinated drinks. Consider stopping the person from drinking alcohol altogether. Caffeine-free tea, coffee and cola are available, as is alcohol-free beer and wine
  • Try and limit the person’s naps during the day to encourage them to sleep well at night instead
  • Close the curtains and turn the lights on before dusk begins, to ease the transition into nighttime
  • If possible, cover mirrors or glass doors. Reflections can be confusing for someone with dementia
  • Once you are in for the evening, speak in short sentences and give simple instructions to the person, to try and limit their confusion
  • Avoid large meals in the evening as this can disrupt sleep patterns
  • Introduce an evening routine with activities the person enjoys, such as: watching a favourite programme, listening to music, stroking a pet etc. However, try to keep television or radio stations set to something calming and relatively quiet—sudden loud noises or people shouting can be distressing for a person with dementia.

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