People with Alzheimer’s or a related dementia may become more confused or nervous later in the day, often as the sun sets. This is called sundowning. They may see or hear things that are not there. They may accuse people of things that are not true, like stealing or lying, and may pace or walk back and forth. This is not done on purpose, and people with dementia cannot control it.
Why does this happen? People with dementia might be more tired in the late afternoon, or even reacting to their care partner’s feelings of being tired. The changing amounts of light and shadows can also be confusing or scary to them, especially as the sun sets earlier during the winter. However, there are a few simple ways you can help prevent sundowning from occurring.
Make changes at home:
- Turn the lights on early in the afternoon to make the house brighter
- Turn down (or turn off) the television or radio
- Turn on soothing music
- Avoid loud or confusing noises
- Clear a path for the person with dementia to walk back and forth
Pay attention to meals and snacks:
- Provide a large meal at lunch and a light meal at dinner
- Cut down on caffeine and sugar after 3 PM
- Keep away from alcohol and cigarettes
Create a schedule:
- Try to ensure the person with dementia goes to bed and wakes up at the same time every day
- Take walks or dance to use up extra energy
- Plan doctor visits, outings, baths, and other activities in the morning
- Be calm and reassuring as a care partner
- Be flexible! If one idea doesn’t work, try another
- Try a new activity to distract from the anxiety, like sorting coins or drawing
For more information and support, contact Alzheimer’s San Diego at 858.492.4400.