Caring For People Having Sundown Syndrome: Dementia Symptoms That Vary During The Day

2013-12-04 | |
Last updated: 2013-12-04

Caring for someone with the loss of mental abilities as in the case of dementia can seem like a Herculean task at times. Unlike an elderly person who is just suffering from physical decline, those who must look after those with dementia are tasked with caring for someone who is literally “losing their mind.” Care givers are faced with someone suffering from extreme personality changes, confusion, aggression, paranoia, restlessness, a tenuous grip on reality and an ever-dwindling ability to care for themselves.

While these symptoms can show themselves at any time during the day, they often get worse in the late afternoon and throughout the evening. Known as sundowning syndrome, it can be a particularly challenging aspect for those providing care. A number of factors appear to contribute to the varying dementia symptoms including an increase in the amount of shadow, disruption of the body clock, changes in body temperature, medication side effects and fatigue. While there is no way to “cure” sundowning, there are several strategies that may help reduce the severity of symptoms.

Controlling Personal Stress To Prevent Patient Stress

People with dementia are especially sensitive to body language and picking up on how other people are feeling. In turn, it can influence their own behavior. When those providing care are acting particularly stressed out or agitated, their loved one may respond in kind so it is important for caregivers to effectively manage their stress. While this piece of advice will often seem easier said than done, making more of an effort to keep one’s own stress and negative emotions in check may rub off positively on the person being care for, making the life of the caregiver much easier.

Using Light Therapy To Manage Dementia Symptoms

Several studies on sundowning suggest that light therapy may be a helpful tool in managing symptoms. Increased light in the evening may help a loved one’s brain stay more oriented. Exposure to a bright fluorescent light for a couple of hours in the morning may also moderate the circadian rhythm or body clock, decrease confusion, agitation and restlessness while improving sleep quality. In the studies that observed improvement of symptoms, patients were exposed to a full-spectrum fluorescent lamp of between 2,500 and 10,000 lux light intensity.

Reducing The Effects Of Evening Dementia With Melatonin Supplements

The disorientation associated with sundowning syndrome can be particularly problematic since it often sets the stage for other symptoms, such as agitation. Trouble sleeping is another common problem, which can be one of the most stressful for the caregiver—if a person with dementia is not sleeping, then chances are, neither will the caregiver. Melatonin supplements may help address the disorientation and insomnia by also addressing the disruption in circadian rhythms common with this disorder.

According to the National Institutes of Health, several high quality studies have found melatonin was useful for elderly patients suffering from dementia in terms of improving sleep quality and many other symptoms such as disorientation and aggression. However it is important that Melatonin is a medication and that talking to a doctor about a suggested dose is important.

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Category: Disease Information, Symptom Information

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