Sundowner’s syndrome, most commonly called sundowning, affects some twenty percent of people who have Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. People with dementia who “sundown” get confused and agitated as the sun goes down — and sometimes through the night.
Sundowning may prevent people with dementia from sleeping well. It may also make them more likely to wander. Due to the stress it puts on caregivers, sundowning is one of the leading causes of caregiver burnout. As a caregiver for someone dealing with sundowning, it is important to know the symptoms to help understand what you are going to be contending with.
Symptoms of Sundowning
Sundowning happens to nearly 20% of people who have Alzheimer’s disease or other kinds of dementia.
People who sundown may become more:
People with sundowning often have trouble sleeping. They may:
- Pace the floor
- Become combative
Sundowning typically peaks during the middle stages of Alzheimer’s. It gets better as the disease progresses. A person with sundowner’s syndrome will likely spend a great deal of time wandering, trying to come to terms with his/her surroundings and mental state, and therefore is highly unlikely to be able to sleep.
What Causes Sundowning?
The causes of sundowning are not well understood.
Some research suggests that sundowning may be related to changes to the brain’s circadian pacemaker. That’s a cluster of nerve cells that keeps the body on a 24-hour clock.
Studies in mice suggest that chemical changes in the brain that are characteristic of Alzheimer’s may play a role. Researchers found that older mice make more of an enzyme that’s associated with anxiety and agitation before they go to sleep than younger-aged mice do.
Several things may increase the risk for sundowning. These include:
- Severe constipation
- Poor nourishment
- Being on too many medications
- Noisy and disruptive sleeping environment
There is much work to be done when it comes to understanding all there is to know about Alzheimer’s and Dementia. Sundowning is just a small part of the disease. We have put together ways to help in treating the sundowners disease.
To learn more about sundowning, the Alzhemier’s foundation has put together a pretty nice page dealing with sundowning and sleep issues.