Understanding Elders Sundowners Syndrome: How To Manage Triggers
Alzheimer’s disease, a degenerative disease that affects mental function, is all too common; it is the 6th leading cause of death in the U.S. and affects more than 5 million Americans. It can be devastating to watch a loved one’s memory fade and it can be a highly disorienting time for them. Sundowners Syndrome only furthers this confusion.
What Is Sundowners?
In the morning, an elderly Alzheimer’s patient may exhibit the normal symptoms: short-term memory loss, confusion, and language impediments. As is the case for 20% of those 5 million patients, as the sun goes down they become increasingly moody, aggressive, and symptomatic.
What Can Be Done?
- Develop A Routine
Alzheimer’s patients deal with enough unpredictability as it is; determining the best routine for them is the most important strategy to combat Sundowners. Rapid changes will only increase their stress, so take it slow. Once a proper schedule is developed, stick to it to give them an anchor in their daily life. In-patient facilities can help them get a round-the-clock routine.
- Get Active
Because Sundowners often makes patients more temperamental at night-time, it’s important to get them active in the mornings so they actually feel tired at night. A morning walk (or other exercise) is a great place to start a routine. The many physical and psychological benefits of exercise won’t hurt either. It’s also important to not only get them up, but keep them up; limiting daytime napping will ensure that they get a good night’s rest and reduce the fatigue that often triggers Sundowners.
- Let There Be Light
Whether from that bright, sunny morning walk or man-made lighting, light therapy can do wonders to a person’s mood. Full spectrum lights in their living space have been shown to reduce depression and have the added ability of control. Sometimes just turning the brightness up a notch can help when they start to exhibit signs of Sundowners.
- Eat Right
A nutritionally-sound routine is difficult for most people as it is, but it is even more important for Sundowners patients. Not only will a proper nutrition help their bodies and minds function effectively, but limiting caffeine (especially towards the evenings) will make them less excitable. Nutritional supplements including ginkgo biloba, vitamin E, and St. John’s Wort have shown promise in reducing the effects of Sundowners Syndrome. Melatonin is a natural, over-the-counter option to induce sleep in the more restless cases too.
- Remain Calm
Sudden changes to their environment can trigger patients easily; that means unexpected visitors, loud noises, televisions, and anything else that can disrupt their tranquility. Gradual change, calm music, and even patient pets are a few of the ways you can promote a comforting, safe environment.
- Medicate (With Caution)
It may seem like an easy way out, but medication can induce unforeseen side effects, exacerbate existing ones, and add more stress to Sundowners patients. Proceed with caution and discuss the possibilities with a doctor before trying to medicate.
Taking care of yourself is important too. You can’t be expected to provide 24/7 care for your loved one while still maintaining your own life. Don’t be afraid to check out specialized assisted living communities to make Sundowners and Alzheimer’s more manageable.