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

2 answers | Last updated: Oct 06, 2016
A fellow 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?

Community Answers

Kristen carlson 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 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.

Emily m. answered...

Hi there,

Thanks for your question! It sounds to me like your aunt is experiencing sundowners syndrome. To learn more about sundowners syndrome check out these links:

Hope that helps