Why does my 81 year old aunt with dementia get confused in the late afternoon?

2 answers | Last updated: Oct 28, 2011
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An anonymous caregiver asked...
My 81 year old aunt has lived an extremely stressful life but has always been a very loving person. She has been diagnosed with dementia but has times of lucidity. Late afternoon is horrible for her as she does not recognize her own children and talks about her life years ago. I don't know why this occurs at the same time every day. Any ideas?
 

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A
Kristen Carlson, CSA, owns and operates Right at Home of Galveston and Right at Home of Houston, in-home care and assistance agencies in...
answered...

The behavior you describe is called "sundown syndrome" or "sunsetting." This behavior is common in people with dementia. It describes confusion, agitation or disorientation that often occurs late in the See also:
How to Talk to Someone With Dementia: New Insights
afternoon, at dusk or in the evening. The behavior may last a few hours or continue through the night.

While the cause of this behavior is not known, there are several factors that may contribute to sundown syndrome, including fatigue, low lighting, increased shadows and disruption of the body's internal clock. Many people with dementia also have trouble sleeping at night, which can aggravate the situation.

The Mayo Clinic[mayoclinic.com] suggests these tips for reducing this type of disorientation in your loved one:

  • Plan for activities and exposure to light during the day to encourage nighttime sleepiness.
  • Limit caffeine and sugar to morning hours.
  • Serve dinner early and offer a light snack before bedtime.
  • Keep a night light on to reduce agitation that occurs when surroundings are dark or unfamiliar.
  • In a strange or unfamiliar setting such as a hospital, bring familiar items such as photographs or a radio from home.
 

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