“I have a stalker, a beautiful one; the sunset. Every day she’s there, watching me, whether I watch her or not.” –Jarod Kintz
While most people would consider a sunset a moment to enjoy, people who have Sundowner’s Syndrome see the sunset as a curse. For them, every day holds another anxious night where they can’t seem to get or stay asleep. Sundowner’s Syndrome can be difficult to understand and cope with, but there are a few techniques that can help ease the burden of someone living with this condition.
What is it?
Sundowner’s Syndrome is something that affects about 20% of people who have Alzheimer’s disease or dementia and can sometimes affect people who have had surgery with anesthetics. Scientists have done studies that seem to suggest changes to the brain’s circadian pacemaker might be the cause of Sundowner’s Syndrome. In layman’s terms, there is a group of nerves within our brain that helps our body follow a 24 hour-clock. When there is a change in this group of nerve such as the chemical imbalances that can cause Alzheimer’s, people can experience Sundowner’s Syndrome.
What does it look like?
There are a few reactions that you can expect when someone is suffering from Sundowner’s Syndrome. The most notable issue that occurs is that it can prevent people from sleeping when it becomes night time. Instead of sleeping, they may walk or pace around with some people having more severe reactions such as yelling or fighting with people who come in contact with them. People who have Sundowners Syndrome often become confused or anxious during sundown which can also cause the before mentioned actions.
How can you work with it?
While there is no cure for Sundowner’s Syndrome just yet, there are a few things that caregivers can do to help minimize the effects a loved one will experience.
Keep the same routine so as not to introduce something new. Patients with dementia or Alzheimer’s can have a difficult time adjusting to something that they find unfamiliar and this can make Sundowner’s Syndrome worse. If a method has worked, stick with it or if necessary only make small changes to have as little effect as possible.
Have a night light or lamp on during nighttime hours. Dark places or shadows can frighten or confuse sufferers of Sundowner’s Syndrome. Keeping a light on can limit this reaction. Also letting them sleep in a comfortable place of their choosing can help them sleep better and longer throughout the nighttime.
Practice a healthy diet. Things like caffeine or alcohol can keep people up through the night making symptoms worse. Limit caffeinated drinks like coffee or soda to morning or lunchtime hours and have a healthy dinner at night. If they need to have a snack after dinner, keep it light and void of sugar or caffeine.
You will not be able to rid your loved one of Sundowner’s Syndrome, but you can make their ability to cope with it better. Understanding what the condition does is the first step to understanding what your loved one is going through. With a little patience and guidance, Sundowner’s sufferers can rest easy each night and feel refreshed the next day.