What is Sundowning? If you have heard someone say, “They’re a sundowner,”or talk about “sundowner syndrome,” this means the person with dementia is prone to a state of stress that can come over them, often in the early afternoon or into the evening. It often involves pacing, getting locked in a loop of concern about a particular topic, and can last for hours.
I have a story to share about working with this state of being.
As a Life Enrichment coordinator at a care community, I and others observed a woman who, every day at about 2:00, started to stir with anxiety. She paced the halls, and I thought she might be pacing because she was anxious, and wondered if I could discover something that could alleviate that anxiety in some way. When I walked with her, and listened, she said, “When are the children coming home? I have to prepare their supper, and I don’t know where the kitchen is..Do we have enough groceries? I don’t have a car..I’m in charge of supper, but how can I cook if I don’t even know where the kitchen is?..”
So I learned to find her at 1:30-before the stressful state began-and offer her a cup of tea, a visit, ask her about her children, hum a tune, walk in the garden with her. We did any or all of these activities, and one of them almost always worked to bring more contentment and reassurance, and less anxiety. Sometimes I would address her concerns directly and help her resolve her thoughts, for example by sharing that “the chef will be making a wonderful meal, and that if your children are here, they’re invited to eat with us.”
The effects for her and for others:
1) She was less stressed, less lost, more comfortable with something enjoyable to do (conversation, physical activity).
2) She felt reassured that she was not neglecting her responsibilities.
3) We the caregivers had more success, both by creating enjoyable time with her, and having less concern about her well-being, because she was happier, more settled in her day.
Sometimes she just needed to walk and ponder things, and could sit and listen to music briefly, or sample the homemade desserts others created.
I recently read an article about dementia that said “You can’t change Sundowning.” I say you can. I and other caregivers did change the dynamic for a stressed person. We gave people connection when they needed it, rather than leaving them to float and wonder. Do this for your own sake and for hers.