Sundowner’s Syndrome: Interpreting Night Time Irritability

Aug 5, 2016

Sundowner’s Syndrome: Interpreting Night Time Irritability

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While many people find that the evening is a great time to unwind and relax, some seniors struggle with this time of the day. Older adults who are suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or any other form of dementia are prone to worsening memory loss, agitation and confusion as the day progresses. This specific disorder is called Sundowner’s Syndrome. About 20 percent of those with dementia suffer from Sundowner’s, but this syndrome also appears in those who have not previously shown signs of Dementia or Alzheimer’s.

Causes and Triggers of Sundowner’s Syndrome

Alzheimer’s is a disease that alters the brain, and this will have effects on an individual’s daily life, further than a deteriorating memory. Most experts agree that Sundowner’s syndrome is a result of an alteration in an older adult’s internal clock. Symptoms begin in late afternoon and early evening, continuing on throughout the rest of the night. Because of this, one of the primary triggers is dimming light in the evening. Other common triggers of this disorder include:

  • Fatigue
  • Too much activity near the end of the day
  • Fall/Winter (Shorter Days)
  • Internal Imbalances

Symptoms of Sundowner’s Syndrome

Many of the symptoms that come along with Sundowning are similar to those of dementia or Alzheimer’s, but they are typically more extreme. Here are some of the symptoms that will be displayed in those who are sundowning:

  • Restlessness (pacing, etc.)
  • Agitation or Spurts of Anger
  • Confused and Disoriented
  • Demanding or Bossy
  • Suspicious
  • Frequent bouts of yelling and/or crying
  • Suffering from delusions or hallucinations

Despite the fact that the individual suffering from this disorder is extremely confused and typically can’t control a lot of their behavior, it’s important to understand the symptoms in the case that a senior becomes violent or dangerous. Seek the help of a professional if a senior or their loved ones are in danger.

What does Sundowner's Syndrome Look Like?

An example of this disorder may further explain the phenomenon.

James, a 75-year-old man, has been coping with the sudden onset of dementia the past few months, and those around him are beginning to notice that his symptoms seem especially severe in the evenings. At night, the slight confusion turns into complete disorientation and James seems to be angry with everyone he comes into contact with. He’s pacing and accusing a fellow family member of trying to kill him in his sleep, despite the fact that everyone knows this family member would never harm him or anyone else. After going to bed, family members often find James wandering around the house, rearranging things.

While this is just one example of sundowning, it is something that many people who live with an individual suffering from this syndrome experience on a regular basis.

Managing Sundowner’s Syndrome

Like Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, it’s near impossible to eliminate symptoms completely, but it is possible to keep the symptoms and outbursts under control. Here are some simple and easy ways to manage sundowning symptoms:

  • Stick to a strict routine. This will help the senior’s internal clock stay set. Establishing a daily routine will also help loved ones understand some of the individual’s triggers.
  • Steer clear of caffeine. Actually, help seniors avoid anything that may keep them up at night.
  • Make sure plenty of light gets into the house. For example, don’t have blackout curtains in the senior’s room. This will help their internal clock wake up with the sun and go to sleep when it becomes dark out.
  • Take medication. See a physician if the symptoms become severe, because certain medications can help limit symptoms and outbursts.

Sundowning is unavoidable in many individuals that are suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. It doesn’t have to be frustrating if seniors and their loved ones can recognize the symptoms, understand the triggers and learn how to control it when it happens.

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Frequently Asked Questions

My husband has recently become more forgetful and I don't want to jump to conclusions, but I'm scared that it might be Alzheimer's. What are some of the symptoms to look for?

Don’t worry; mild forgetfulness is actually a normal part of growing older for many people. His forgetfulness may even be caused by treatable side effects from medication, or perhaps a vitamin B12 deficiency.

However, there are several other more serious conditions that may induce memory loss. The main symptoms of Alzheimer’s include: confusion during routine tasks or familiar settings, difficulty with spatial judgments, and sharp changes in mood or personality. In any case, scheduling an appointment with your doctor to evaluate his condition is a great way to put your mind at ease.

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I've heard that eating certain foods can actually work to help prevent Alzheimer's. Is that true?

An emerging number of studies would suggest that eating certain foods could promote brain health, while others can be harmful. Current research is investigating whether fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, along with a low-fat diet can serve to protect the brain against Alzheimer’s. Though, regardless of your predisposition to Alzheimer’s, it’s still vastly beneficial to eat as best as you can throughout your golden years.

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