Sundowning

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.

 

About Tryn Rose

I want to lighten the step of those on the journey with Alzheimer's. From a decade of caregiving, and a lifetime of appreciating the human experience, the strategies I learned helped me, and I hope they will help you. I'm a musician, photographer, gardener, and author of "Extraordinary Days".
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2 Responses to Sundowning

  1. Barb says:

    hi Tryn!

    I love this post. It’s your old friend Barb from your Palo Alto days!!.
    You know, my dad had dementia; we never really knew whether it was Alzheimer’s. Regardless, he was a “sundowner.” For him it came more or less as the day was waning. He got very paranoid about things to do with his war experience. He’d ask us to go find out who was in charge of “this outfit.” So I would just step out the door and wait a bit, then come in a report about that all was in order or something like that. He’d worry as to whether Jan and I had anywhere to stay and whether we would be safe getting there. Sometimes we had to leave just so HE felt better. I always looked at it as a sort of improvisation activity. Whatever he said the answer from me was always “yes,” so to speak. I just went along with it. No problem. It was actually pretty fun. We learned what upset him. He couldn’t handle the news or any history channel shows any more towards the end of his life. So we watch Cake Boss and Mayberry RFD reruns. Lol. And there was one guy who worked there who threw him into a real tizzy. Dad would call this very nice man a “crook” and “devious!” It was rather embarrassing….We figured this man, Alladin, reminded him of a bad war experience or something and finally had to resort to asking the social worker not to put him on Dad duty. They were very kind about it.
    Anyway, thanks for listening! I really miss him, and it is nice to know that there are wonderful people like you teaching others how to understand the quirky yet real needs of people like him! It was hard, just took some acceptance! He had some wonderful caregivers, too! Love you! Keep up the awesome work! Barb

    • Tryn Rose says:

      So nice to hear from you, Barb! I send much love for you and your family. I miss that Santa Claus who came to my door when I was a bitty girl, and when I asked him where his reindeer were, he said, “I left ’em downtown. There’s no snow here (Palo Alto), and they need snow to travel.” Sweet man! And so are you.

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