Understanding Sundowning in Loved Ones with Alzheimer’s


These tips can help family caregivers better understand and manage sundowning.

When caring for a loved one who has Alzheimer’s disease, it is common to notice some challenging behaviors. In particular, seniors with dementia may have issues during certain times of day, as seen in sundowning. Sundowning is characterized by restlessness, agitation, irritability and confusion in the late afternoon or early evening, and is a common behavioral change in people with dementia. The behavior is often exacerbated later in the day and into the evening, making it hard for the senior to stay asleep. Caring for a person who is experiencing sundowning can be a challenge for family caregivers, but understanding more about the condition and the strategies to help can make caring for loved ones easier.

What Causes Sundowning?

Experts aren’t entirely certain as to what causes a person with Alzheimer’s to experience sundowning. One theory is that changes to the brain caused by Alzheimer’s can affect a person’s internal clock, leading to mixed up sleep-wake cycles. Other possibilities include:

  • Getting too tired
  • Not enough exposure to sunlight during the day
  • Medication side effects
  • Boredom
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Hunger or thirst
  • Experiencing pain

Watch for signs of sundowning in the late afternoon or early evening. These may include:

  • Confusion
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Pacing
  • Wandering
  • Yelling

If you notice sundowning symptoms, try to modify the environment when possible. Reduce noise and clutter. Take the senior to a quiet room. Ensure that you begin to wind down in the early evenings with a walk or soothing music. Close the curtains to reduce any glare or shadows that may cause confusion. If agitation persists, try distracting your loved one with a favorite snack, TV show, or activity.

How to Prevent Sundowning

To help prevent sundowning, getting both adequate rest and exercise is important. This can help reduce overtiredness and early evening agitation. Follow these tips:

  • Get sunlight exposure by sitting by a window or spending time outside to help reset the person’s internal clock.
  • Make sure the person gets daily exercise.
  • Take naps or rest during the daytime if needed, but keep naps short.
  • Get plenty or sleep at night.
  • Avoid coffee, sodas, teas, and other caffeinated beverages late in the day.
  • Avoid alcohol as it may add to confusion.
  • Don’t plan too many activities during the day as this may lead to being overtired in the evening.

Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s is difficult for many family caregivers, and when challenging behaviors like sundowning arise, it can feel overwhelming. Partnering with a home care agency like Visiting Care Giving Services, a trusted provider of Chesterfield home care and senior care throughout the surrounding areas, can help family caregivers take the breaks they need while ensuring their loved ones receive exceptional care.

We offer a wide range of senior care services, including:

Contact our Chesterfield home care experts today at (636) 493-9058 to learn more about our services and how we can help you care for loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease. For a full list of the communities we serve, visit our Service Area page.