How Long Does Sundowning Last in Seniors with Dementia?

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Increased memory loss, confusion, and agitation are some of the telltale signs associated with sundowning, a term that refers to a temporary uptick in symptoms commonly experienced by older adults with dementia. Also known as late-day confusion, sundowning tends to be most noticeable during the late afternoon and evening. Let’s take a closer look at sundowning, how long it usually lasts in seniors with dementia, and what can be done to manage it. 

When Sundowning Starts to Become a Problem

As for when this dementia-related problem may first become a daily issue for a senior loved one living with dementia, it can be different for every senior based on the rate of cognitive decline and impairment. However, sundowning generally starts to become noticeable and consistent during the middle stages of dementia, which is usually when the parts of the brain that control perception and mood become affected, but the exact cause of sundowning isn’t known. 

If your senior loved one experiences sundowning due to dementia, he or she may need a higher level of care than a family member can provide. Caring for a senior with dementia can be challenging for family caregivers. Luckily, there is dementia care Kennebunk families can rely on. Professional dementia caregivers help seniors with dementia stay safe and comfortable at home by preventing wandering, providing cognitive stimulation, and assisting with household chores. 

How to Recognize Sundowning when It Occurs

As mentioned above, sundowning generally occurs during the later hours of the day, and it’s usually characterized by a fairly consistent pattern that occurs around the same time each day. For some seniors with dementia, the added confusion and agitation may last for only a few hours. However, it could begin around dusk and continue into the night for some older adults with dementia. 

It’s important for family caregivers to know how to recognize the signs of sundowning so appropriate adjustments can be made. It can also be helpful to know what tends to trigger sundowning in older adults living with dementia-related conditions. Some of the more common sundowning triggers and contributing factors include: 

  • Daytime fatigue 
  • An untreated urinary tract infection 
  • An environment with insufficient lighting 
  • Issues with the body’s internal clock due to dementia-related sleep problems 
  • The arrival of winter and shorter days 

Sundowning can be one of the most challenging aspects of aging for elderly people with dementia. Seniors can face a variety of challenges as they age, many of which can be mitigated with the help of professional in-home caregivers who provide high-quality senior home care. Trust Align Home Care Services of Kennebunk to help your elderly loved one age in place safely and comfortably.

How Sundowning Can Be Managed

There’s no standard treatment for sundowning. The best approach to managing it as a caregiver is to develop an understanding of what seems to trigger your loved one’s late-day agitation and confusion. For some seniors, maintaining a regular routine with late-day activities such as eating dinner, bathing, and preparing for bedtime minimizes sundowning issues. Also, watch for patterns of behavior related to certain foods. For instance, beverages and foods containing caffeine or high amounts of sugar should be avoided later in the day. 

If your loved one has issues with depression or sleep problems or you suspect an infection may be triggering the sundowning behaviors, talk to his or her doctor about appropriate treatments. Once underlying health concerns like these are treated, sundowning may become less of a problem.

Later-day confusion may also be managed well with the following strategies: 

  • Planning activities during the day to encourage regular nighttime sleeping and less daytime napping 
  • Reducing background noise from the television and other sources later in the day 
  • Playing familiar gentle music later in the day to increase relaxation 
  • Using a night light or leaving a low light on overnight to prevent agitation that sometimes occurs when it’s too dark 

It can be challenging for family caregivers to manage their loved ones’ physical and cognitive needs, and professional caregivers can be a valuable resource. Not every senior has the same care needs, which means they don’t all need the same type of home care. Kennebunk families can rely on Align Home Care to provide individualized care plans to meet their elderly loved ones’ unique care needs. Our caregivers help seniors focus on healthy lifestyle habits such as eating nutritious foods, exercising regularly, and maintaining strong social ties, and we offer mentally stimulating activities that can stave off cognitive decline and delay the onset of dementia. To hire a professionally trained caregiver for your loved one, call us at (207) 606-8419 today.


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