Evening Shadows and Sundowning

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The hardest part of the day for many caregivers and for those they love can be late in the afternoon and in the evening. When the shadows appear and the day is coming to a close, one out of five people who suffer with dementia often experience Sundowning. According to an article on WebMD, sundowning may cause irritability, confusion, restlessness and disorientation. Although it’s hard to tell what causes this problem, experts are finding ways that can help alleviate this scary syndrome.

Things to Rule Out

You don’t need to have dementia in order to have a hard time in the late afternoon or evening. Many of us experience restlessness and moodiness later in the day. Sometimes there are simple reasons why we feel this way. It could be as simple as we’re tired, hungry, in pain, dehydrated or just plain bored. Many times we’re not tired enough to go to bed but we don’t have enough energy to do something enjoyable or productive. It’s the same way for the older loved one we’re caring for. So ask them what’s wrong and do suggest what might be going on to start a dialogue.

Identifying Triggers

A friend of mine who is caring for her mother with dementia said they were having a problem with sundowning. She said it mostly happens on the weekends when her mother’s schedule is off a little. During the week, my friend is at work and caregivers are careful to keep her mom on a good schedule. They have her bathe and go to appointments early in the day when she’s feeling her best.The weekends are different. My friend has lots of chores and errands to catch up on. It throws her mother’s schedule off enough that they both pay for it in the evening.

WebMD states that the shadows of the late afternoon and evening can be a trigger for many older people. Pulling the shades, turning on indoor lights and keeping the mood calm and pleasant can help. Shadows can be scary. Our mood can also be a trigger if we’re tired and cranky. Your loved one may have dementia but they can still sense your feelings and they can rub off. Over-correcting your loved one or arguing can make the condition much worse. Loud noises can also cause them to panic. Think happy, happy, happy — even if you have to fake it a little.

Be Accommodating and Find Ways to Distract Them

Again, asking them, “What’s wrong?” is a good way to find out if there’s something you can do to help the situation. They may be able to tell you — or not. A change of scenery can help. An easy stroll before dark may be just the ticket to get them talking about the trees or flowers or how their day has gone.

Things to Avoid in the Evening and Afternoon

Alcohol can definitely be a trigger so make sure they don’t partake in the evening. A big dinner is not the best idea. Almost all assisted living communities have found out that the biggest meal of the day should be lunch. Dinners should always be light. People sleep better that way.

If your loved one likes to nap, make sure they nap early in the day. Napping too close to bed time can really cause problems. The same goes for caffeine and sweets. Both are too stimulating for the later day.

When it Gets Bad

Keep your calm. Tell them everything will be all right. Change the mood with soft music. Many who suffer from sundowning tend to pace. The WebMD article says to just let them. Watch them to make sure they stay safe. We can only try to imagine what they are going through. I do know if a situation or problem is bothering me, it’s much worse at night when all there is to do is think. If this becomes a persistent problem, take them in to see their doctor. Have him go over their medications and see if there’s a physical reason for the sundowning. They might even prescribe something to help with their sleep.

Extra Precautions

You may need to buy a baby monitor so you can try to rest. Perhaps they’ll sleep better with a light on. Make sure they can’t get out of the house while you are asleep and just take it one day at a time. Listen to what they have to say and watch for what seems to bother them.

Remember what you’re doing is so wonderful. Take good care of your own health and happiness. You are a very important person and you’ll help your loved one best when your needs are met.

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