What is sundowners’ syndrome? As an elderly person’s body ages, it becomes more difficult to regulate its internal temperature, which can lead to a variety of ailments, including short periods of confusion and memory loss. This problem has been given the name sundowners’ syndrome by doctors and caregivers who have noticed that symptoms tend to occur as the sun goes down—hence the sundowner’s designation. Here are some tips on dealing with sundowners’ syndrome in seniors, which can be especially helpful if you work with or care for aging loved ones in any capacity.
But first, let’s explore more about sundowning in aging loved ones. Although there are currently no conclusive research studies regarding sun setting’s effect on elders, it can be attributed to both physical and mental changes older adults go through as they age. Also known as sundowning or sundown syndrome, it generally happens near dusk and involves personality changes, unusual sleep habits, and confusion upon waking up at night.
When sundown comes, a senior may suddenly need to sleep. This can be unnerving for those not familiar with sundown syndrome and is particularly hard on caregivers. However, there are ways to make it easier for everyone involved. The most important tip is to go gradual when altering your loved one’s schedule. To avoid confusion or even a fall, don’t change their schedule all at once; instead, slowly incorporate changes throughout each day and week before making big ones. This will not only help you make sure that you’re gradually increasing their abilities, but it will also give you more insight into what your senior likes and dislikes, as well as an easier way of helping them adjust.
Many people can’t make it through a day without taking a quick catnap. While naps are fine when you need to recharge, they aren’t appropriate during nighttime hours or if you’re trying to go about your normal routine. Limit naps and give yourself enough time each night to wind down fully. This is especially important if you wake up in the middle of the night and find yourself unable to fall back asleep quickly.
Busy Days and Calm Nights
Although it’s tempting to take a rest as soon as you come home from work, resist that urge. Instead, talk with your aging loved ones for a few minutes before doing anything else. Linger over a cup of tea and ask about what’s been going on during your time apart. Invite your loved one to join you in an activity like watching TV or playing cards. These actions will keep their minds sharp and improve memory function while creating more moments together that you’ll both cherish in years to come.
Drinking caffeinated coffee in the afternoon can help curb hunger and enhance sleep, but it’s not without risks. Caffeine is a stimulant, and older adults often have trouble processing it. If your loved one is easily agitated by caffeine, stick to decaf or other options like tea. And always be sure to check with a doctor first—some people are more sensitive to caffeine than others. Also, keep in mind that some medications, like heart medications and diseases, like kidney disease can worsen with too much caffeine. Talk to your loved one’s doctor if they’re taking any meds and see how they feel about their daily dose of java or tea before you make any changes.
The best tip to consider when dealing with sundowning is to make sure the elderly’s environment is as illuminated as possible. According to experts, it’s often difficult for older loved ones with dementia to adjust to low lighting conditions, and they may not be able to make out objects as easily. If you notice your loved one acting anxious in darkness, you can take a few simple steps like adding a light source or keeping lamps on timers so that they’re automatically turned on at night.