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What is the Meaning of Sundowning? Que es eso? (what is that?)

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This month’s post comes near and dear from my heart. With the holidays around the corner and family travel coming up it’s important for me to share what I have found is common in the elder community dealing with Dementia and Alzheimer’s.

A year ago, our family was celebrating a family wedding.  We had gone to visit with family we had not seen in several years. I traveled with my Madre. She was so excited to be able to travel and see family and visit her old stomping grounds.   It was fun and exciting taking family pictures and visiting relatives.  It had been several years since mom had so much excitement on one trip. We all retired to our rooms and my Madre got to sleep with me. Let’s fast forward to 3:00a.m. That morning when I got the dreaded call from the lobby that mom had been found wandering outside the hotel and was lost. Que asustó!

After speaking to specialists, her doctor and friends, we discovered what is a very common issue with early Dementia and Alzheimer’s patients – Sundowning.  There are many theories about why this happens. It may have to do with the dimming light, extreme fatigue, hunger, thirst, pain or discomfort or hormonal imbalances as the sun goes down. Evening and darkness may tap into fears of being unsafe and insecure. Whatever the cause; seeing a loved one with these symptoms can be a nightmare.

Sundowning is a symptom of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. It’s also known as “late-day confusion.” If someone you care for has dementia, their confusion and agitation may get worse in the late afternoon and evening. Your loved one is most likely to experience sundowning if they have mid-stage to advanced dementia. Learn about steps you can take to help reduce sundowning, for their benefit as well as your own.

7 Tips for Reducing Sundowning

Stick to a schedule

Dementia can make it hard to develop and remember new routines. Your loved one might react to unfamiliar places and things with feelings of stress, confusion, and anger. These feelings can play a large role in sundowning.

Light up their life

Your loved one might experience sundowning as the result of changes in their sleep-wake cycles. Adjusting the light in their home might help reduce their symptoms.

According to a research review published in Psychiatric Investigation, some studies suggest light therapy can reduce agitation and confusion in people with dementia.

Keep them active

Many people who experience sundowning syndrome have trouble sleeping at night. Fatigue is a common trigger of sundowning. Too much daytime dozing and inactivity can make it harder for your loved one to fall asleep at bedtime. To promote a good night’s sleep, help them stay active during the day.

Adjust their eating patterns

Adjusting your loved one’s eating patterns may also help reduce their sundowning symptoms. Large meals can increase their agitation and may keep them up at night, especially if they consume caffeine or alcohol. Limiting their evening food intake to a hearty snack or light meal might help them feel more comfortable and rest easier at night.

Minimize their stress

Try to help your loved one stay calm in the evening hours. Encourage them to stick to simple activities that aren’t too challenging or frightening. Frustration and stress can add to their confusion and irritability. Consider playing soft music to create a calm and quiet environment

Provide comfort and familiarity

Help fill your loved one’s life and home with things they find comforting. If they move into a hospital or assisted living facility, furnish the space around them with cherished items

Track their behavior

Each person has different triggers for sundowning. To help identify your loved one’s triggers, use a journal and look for patterns to learn which activities or environments seem to make their symptoms worse. Once you know their triggers, it will be easier to avoid situations that promote confusion.

Care for yourself too

Sundowning syndrome can be exhausting, not just for your loved one but for you too. As a caregiver, it’s essential to take good care of yourself. You’ll be in a better position to give your loved one the patience and support they need when you’re rested and healthy.  Seek help and advise from your community or your elders doctor.

I hope this has been informative for you and if you know or have friends and family that have an Alzheimer’s loved one, take note of this post.  I had no idea this ever existed until the night I experienced this first hand. My future post will be about securing your Super Senior at home in case they wander or you can’t find them.

Source:    AARP

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