How can I help my mother, who becomes agitated every evening?

4 answers | Last updated: Apr 27, 2011
A fellow caregiver asked...

My 85-year-old mother lives alone in her own home, and we both want it to stay that way. She has some help with housekeeping in the mornings, and her housekeeper is around when she takes a shower. She was doing all right, but lately she has been so agitated by 5 p.m. that she won’t eat her supper and stays up too late. How can I help her?

Expert Answers

As Founder and Director of Circles of Care, Ann Cason provides caregiving, consulting, and training services to individuals and public and private organizations involved in eldercare. She is the author of Circles of Care: How to Set Up Quality Home Care for Our Elders.

While some elders can get by at home with practical assistance in the morning, others need more help. Your mother's agitation may be a sign that she feels too isolated and alone in the afternoon, which is an important transition time that can affect her mood for the rest of her day.

As an experiment, plan some enrichment activities for the afternoon. Make sure each activity has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Start with something practical and sneak in some fun along the way.

To start off, do these activities with your mother yourself. Later on, if you hire a person to help, you'll know the routine well enough to train the helper. Here are some suggestions:

  • Schedule any doctor's appointments for 3 p.m., then stop on the way home for a little recreation. What about a cup of tea or a drive to the park? When you take her home, get her settled into her next activity. Help her pick up a book, turn on the news, or put out ingredients for her supper. Then say good-bye with a quick hug or wave and go. If you hire someone to spend time with your mother in the afternoons, make sure you familiarize this person with the routine.
  • Ask a friend or neighbor to come by for a cup of tea or lemonade at 4 p.m. Put out napkins, a plate of fruit, and cheese. If your mother is doing fine, you can move to another room, but if she seems agitated, try facilitating the conversation by starting with simple subjects -- local news, information about friends, and so on. Afterward, help to wash the dishes and get your mother started on the next activity before you leave.

Community Answers

Caringforthem answered...

Hi! What if the person with Alzhiemer's does not stay with any one activity for a long period of time? My client seems lost in her own little world most of the time and I think this would be hard to make happen in this way. do you have suggestions for someone like this? My client is always in a bad mood in the mornings up until about 11am and when you mention the word Shower..

Emilypinaud answered...

Everyday between 5 and 7 pm the sundowners kicks in with my Mom.She is very agressive and shouts for hours.Sometimes it helps if I put on music from her era.World war 2 etc.Then my father and I talk to her about those times she used to dance to those songs.

Kim.elliott27 answered...

To all, You are certainly going through it. My mom has been diagnosed with sundowners and is nowhere near as high-maintenance as you have described. I just want to run and give you a hug and I'm not normally that physically outgoing. With my mom, she is just really afraid of the dark of night. So I have adopted shutting her blinds around dinner time. I also never go on an errand at night. We recently moved to central California and even though we left at 1pm we arrived to our destination after dark. I've never seen anyone more frightened. Hopefully, these tips will help in some way.