If you are taking care of a parent who has Alzheimer's, you may be struggling with the afternoon and evening hours. In fact, late afternoon through early evening hours can be the most difficult time period when dealing with someone with Alzheimer's. There's actually a term used to describe it: sundowning. Here's what you need to know about the phenomenon called sundowning and where you can turn to for help.
Sundowning is described as the agitation, confusion, irritability, and restlessness that people with Alzheimer's experience later in the day. Your parent may become so aggravated that he or she is difficult to console or calm. While the medical community does not quite understand why sundowning occurs, it is believed that it is related to the person's circadian rhythm being affected due to changes in the brain. The circadian rhythm is the body's natural sleep/wake cycle.
The effects of Alzheimer's on the circadian rhythm can ultimately worsen the symptoms of Alzheimer's and quickly become a downward spiral. The inability for your loved one to get restful sleep due to their circadian rhythm being off can grossly impair their cognitive function during waking hours, which can lead to irritability and confusion. Their inability to sleep during the night may cause them to nap during the day, which can worsen the problem because they don't get the natural light input to their retinas during the daylight hours, which is necessary for resetting the circadian rhythm.
Sundowning can be prevented by resetting your loved one's circadian rhythm by making sure they are exposed to natural sunlight, particularly in the morning hours and by reducing noise and distractions leading up to bedtime. If your parent needs a nap during the day, make sure it is brief and not late in the day. Avoid giving them caffeinated beverages and foods and drinks that contain sugar later in the day so they can fall asleep easier in the late evening.
If you have trouble getting control of sundowning or find yourself unable to cope with your parent's behavior during sundowning, seek help through a care provider who is experienced with Alzheimer's patients. The care provider can offer you some guidance on avoidance of what may be contributing to your parent's sundowning behaviors, such as too much distraction or noise during the late afternoon and evening hours when it's time for the hustle and bustle of the household to wind down.
For more information, contact a company like The Independence Houses.