7 Tactics That Can Ease the Burden of Sundown Syndrome

What can you do to avoid sundown syndrome, the pattern of agitated behavior and confusion that often afflicts people with dementia in late afternoon or early evening?

Try these tactics:

1. Try to keep daily routines predictable, making sure to include some kind of movement or physical activity, which can help promote sleep at night.

2. Minimize napping once sundown syndrome begins to escalate. Less sleep by day will help your loved one feel more tired in the evening. If he or she tends to fall asleep after lunch, for example, plan an engaging activity for that time instead. Or rouse the napper after just 10 minutes, instead of letting him or her snooze for two hours.

3. Let there be light -- specifically fluorescent light. Some people are helped by being exposed to a full-spectrum fluorescent light (2,500 to 5,000 lux) during the morning. Try placing such a lamp a few feet from your loved one when he or she is distracted by television or another activity.

4. Don't let your loved one become overly hungry. Someone with dementia may not remember to eat or even tell you he or she is hungry. But blood sugar may play a role in sundowning, so offer small snacks of protein, complex carbs, or fruit throughout the day to help stabilize it.

5. Make sure the "sundown" time of day is a calm one in the household. Often other family members are moving in and out around then, the TV goes on, and the general atmosphere buzzes more, which can be disconcerting to someone with dementia.

6. See if there are obvious triggers for the discomfort the person seems to be expressing: Does the evening sunset hit his or her eyes from a certain chair? Does the heat not kick in until later in the evening, making your loved one cold?

7. Talk to the doctor if agitation becomes disruptive or frightening. Certain medications can help with sundown syndrome.

See more tactics to cope with sundown syndrome.

Paula Spencer Scott

Paula Spencer Scott is the author of Surviving Alzheimer's: Practical Tips and Soul-Saving Wisdom for Caregivers and much of the Alzheimer's and caregiving content on Caring. See full bio