• Kathryn Watson

Soothing Sundowner Syndrome in Dementia Patients


Caregivers who have experienced sundowner syndrome cringe at the word. This is the most difficult time of the day.

Described by Mayo Clinic as:

“The term "sundowning" refers to a state of confusion occurring in the late afternoon and spanning into the night. Sundowning can cause a variety of behaviors, such as confusion, anxiety, aggression or ignoring directions. Sundowning can also lead to pacing or wandering.”

Sundowner Syndrome Is Not a Disease.

Rather, it is a group of behavioral changes occurring in dementia patients. And most of the times these changes are not very pleasant.

“Mom had always been such a lady. But when sundowners kicked in, she could curse worse than a sailor! We had no idea she even knew these words. She would also spit, scratch and sometimes even bite anyone who was close by. The transformation was disturbing to watch. We didn’t know what to do.” ~Judy

And Judy is not alone. No one prepared family caregivers for dementia. And certainly not for the behaviors that came with sundowner syndrome. And while there is no cure there are steps you can take that may help to minimize the behavior changes.

Keep Routines

Activity and visitors are best kept in the earlier part of the day. Let friends and family know that Mom is feeling the best in the morning and early afternoon. Encourage visits at that time.

Have a schedule for meals, activities, bath time etc.

Mom may not remember what to do but she can develop muscle memory. As an activity is performed day after day at the same time, she will become accustomed to this routine. It will feel comfortable.

That is why Bob Demarco with Alzheimer’s Reading Room suggests that baths should be given daily. He told me when he switched his mom to daily baths life became so much easier.

Pay Attention to Triggers

Pay attention to what is going on the hour before sundowner syndrome begins to rear its ugly head.

Is the TV on?

If so, is the same show on most days? That could be a trigger.

What about diet?

Certain foods could trigger the symptoms. You may want to try limiting caffeine and sugars. Try to add more whole foods and less packaged or processed foods.

Is the home louder in the afternoon?

Try to tune into all of your senses. Someone with dementia may be hypersensitive to different types of stimulation.

Distract- Play the Detective

Play the type of music that Mom or Dad really likes. But make sure it isn’t too loud.

Jess said her Dad really calmed down when she put headphones on him and let him listen to Frank Sinatra. The headphones blocked out distracting noises around him. You will have to become a bit of a detective to see what will work for your loved one.

Do a quiet activity that involves her hands. Maybe rolling out cookie dough to bake cookies. Or maybe making peanut butter sandwiches for the kids. Or let her choose an essential oil to add to some cream so you can giver her a foot or hand massage.

Maybe take Dad for a walk outside or to work in the garden. If he worked in an office ask him is he can organize some papers for a business meeting.

We Notice The Changes

At Light Heart Memory Care our caregivers make special note of any changes in our residents. With a small home and only 8 residents we are able to keep a close eye. Doctors and Nurse Practitioners visit our home. As such they can order tests to check for common infections like a UTI.

Call_281-282-0770 to schedule a tour of Light Heart Memory Care. And remember to have a light heart. Everything is going to be okay.

In honor of our founder Pat Mack we are carrying on the tradition of caring for our residents in "The Light Heart Way"

Contact Heather for more information.

Email her today for more information.

Or Give us a call today and come for a tour.

281-282-0770