What is Sundowner’s Syndrome?

An estimated 20% of seniors with Alzheimer’s may experience a phenomenon doctors call “Sundowner’s Syndrome” or “sundowning”. Sundowning is not an illness, but rather a group of symptoms that occur at a certain time each day.  As its name implies, sundowning tends to occur during the transition from day to night, typically from 4:30 p.m. to as late as 11:00 p.m.  As the sun begins to set in the evening, or in some cases rise in the morning, seniors experience increased confusion, memory loss, disorientation, extreme mood changes, and agitation. Symptoms range depending on the individual, but some symptoms can be frightening for both caregivers and the elderly. Severe symptoms include hallucinations, physical violence, paranoia, and wandering.

Possible Causes

It is important to note that not all people with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia will display sundowning symptoms. Doctors do not know exactly what causes these extreme behavior changes during early evening hours, but there are several theories. According to the Mayo Clinic, the most common triggers are:

  • Hormonal imbalance

  • Fatigue or over-stimulation from daily activity

  • Low light or shadows

  • Changes to biological clock brought on by dementia

  • Hunger and blood sugar level changes

  • Increased activity or noise brought on by shift changes in assisted-living facilities

Caregiver Tip

Your senior loved one has no control over sundowning behaviors, but there may be changes you can make to their environment to help.  It is important to pay close attention to patterns in behavior and look for triggers in the senior’s environment.

Stayed tuned to the County Health Care Guide Blog to learn more about Sundowner’s Syndrome and tips to manage it. sunset-538286