Sundowning is a term used for changes in behaviour that occur in the evening, around dusk. Some people who have dementia experience a growing sense of agitation or anxiety at this time.
Sundowning often makes the person with dementia feel very strongly that they are in the wrong place. They might say they need to go home, even if they are at home, or that they need to pick the children up from school, even if they’re now adults. Other symptoms might include shouting or arguing, pacing, or becoming confused about who people are or what’s going on around them.
Sundowning has several causes. As the day goes on, the person with dementia becomes more tired, and this can lead to their dementia symptoms worsening. Hunger, thirst and physical pain can also play a part.
As darkness falls, streetlights come on and people settle in for the evening. These changes can make the person increasingly concerned that they are in the wrong place, or that they have forgotten to do something vital during the day.
Follow a daytime routine that contains activities the person enjoys, like going for a gentle walk or visiting the shops
Try to limit their intake of caffeinated and alcoholic drinks.Instead, offer them caffeine-free tea, coffee and cola, or alcohol-free beer or wine. You might want them to consider stopping drinking alcohol altogether
Try to limit daytime naps to encourage them to sleep well at night
Close the curtains and turn the lights on before dusk to ease the transition into night–time
If possible, cover mirrors, windows and glass doors with a towel, sheet or curtain. Reflections can be confusing for people with dementia
Avoid large meals in the evening as this can disrupt sleep patterns
Introduce an evening routine with activities the person enjoys, such as watching a favourite programme, listening to music, stroking a pet etc. However, try to keep television or radio stations set to something calming and quiet – sudden loud noises like shouting can be distressing for a person with dementia
If you would like to talk to someone about sundowning or any other aspect of dementia, call our Admiral Nurse Dementia Helpline on 0800 888 6678 (Monday-Friday 9am-9pm, Saturday-Sunday 9am-5pm, every day except the 25th December) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.