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What is sundown syndrome: Part 2

Help relieve the stress of this syndrome by following these tips.

Sundown syndrome can occur in people with Alzheimer’s Disease or other forms of dementia. It is exemplified by a state of confusion and/or agitation at the end of the day. There is no known cause or cure for sundowning, but there are things that can be done to help a person who suffers from it.

What you can do

Michigan State University Extension suggests you keep an eye out for things in the person’s environment that might trigger the confusion or anxiety. Often darkness and shadows bring on sundowning behaviors, so keeping lights on, or using night lights may help. Keeping the surroundings quiet and calm in the evening can help as well.

It can also help to keep a daily routine for the person who suffers from sundowning. Set regular times for waking, meals, and going to sleep. Try to keep events that may interrupt these routines to a minimum. Schedule appointments, outings and visits earlier in the day, if at all possible. Those with sundown syndrome tend to feel best at that time.

A good night’s sleep is important for a person with sundown syndrome. To promote a good night’s sleep, limit or avoid things that affect sleep, such as tobacco and alcohol. Make sure sweets and caffeine are consumed before noon only. Making lunch the larger, main meal of the day and making the evening meal smaller and simpler can also help to promote better sleep. Avoiding naps and physical activity within four hours of bedtime will help promote calm when it’s time to go to sleep. If a person absolutely needs to nap, the nap should be brief and taken earlier in the day so as not to interfere with nighttime sleep.

A calm environment in the evening can also ease sundowning symptoms. Close curtains and turn on lights. Make sure the room is a comfortable temperature and keep noises to a minimum. Relaxing music and quiet activities such as reading or playing cards can also help a person with the syndrome to wind down.

Sometimes an underlying condition, such as a urinary tract infection or sleep apnea might aggravate sundowning behavior. Talk with your loved one’s healthcare provider if you suspect that to be the case.

According to the Mayo Clinic, there is some research that suggests a low dose of melatonin, alone or combined with exposure to bright light during the day, might help ease sundowning. Melatonin is a naturally-occurring hormone that induces sleepiness. This is something that can be discussed with a healthcare provider as well.

How to react

If someone you know suffers from sundowner syndrome and becomes agitated, remain calm. Ask if she needs something. Be reassuring, tell her everything is ok and don’t argue with her. If she needs to move around or pace, go ahead and let her do it. Stay close and keep an eye on her.

You can help to keep a person with sundown syndrome safe by providing night lights and locks for doors and windows. Use a gate to block stairs and put dangerous items, like kitchen tools, out of reach. It might help to use a baby monitor, motion detectors or door sensors if the person tends to wander.

As with any health condition, talk to the person’s doctor if what you’re trying isn’t working. He or she can make sure that medications aren’t causing the confusion.

Read Part 1

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