For elders suffering dementia, they’re already experiencing a great deal of stress, but it’s even worse when the sun goes down. As the light of day fades, many seniors with dementia grow irritable, more susceptible to confusion, and more likely to accuse you of some audacious acts. For many, the symptoms of dementia are enhanced once the sun goes down.
Why? Rather than explain the science behind it, consider the following. Imagine you just watched a horror movie during the late afternoon, so when you come out of the theater it’s dark outside. The setting has changed and become less familiar. To make matters worse, if you’ve been particularly affected by a horror movie, then in your own home, maybe you start seeing shadows on the wall, maybe you start hearing things, and a friend (or spouse) may say, “Your mind is playing tricks on you.”
That’s the best way to describe Sundowner’s Syndrome. It may just be a change in light, but it can causes a great deal of stress on the brain – especially one that’s already fighting against the symptoms during the day.
So, if your elder is exhibiting symptoms of sundowning, what can you do?
1. Stick to the Sleep Schedule
One of the best ways to avoid sundowning’s effects is to ensure your senior is maintaining a sleep schedule full of regular naps. Sleeping, as you already know, refreshes the brain. Recently, scientists even discovered that your brain literally shrinks down and washes itself during sleep – this scrubs it clean of toxins.
A regular sleep schedule can do wonders for your senior and keep them from growing tired and more irritable as the day wears on – not to mention sleep soundly at night.
2. Keep your Senior Active
Exercise has proven to help people sleep better at night. This is because your body works, it gets sore and exhausted; it needs sleep to repair itself. If you give your senior an active day – and let them be independent – then by the time bedtime rolls around, they’re going out like a light.
Although many seniors suffer Sundowner’s Syndrome during the evening, it’s very common for seniors to suffer it mid-night. Many awaken and in the darkness cannot figure out where they are, so they leave – this is in large part what leads to wandering.
Some caregivers end up sleeping in front of their elders doors to make sure they’re awoken if their parent gets up and starts wandering around the house. You can avoid this uncomfortable sleeping arrangement however if you ensure an active day.
3. Consider Medication
Usually medication is a last resort, but for some seniors who physically can’t be active and maybe have always had trouble sleeping, medication is the best way to go. Over the counter medicine can be a risky venture – there are many side effects to melatonin supplements for instance – so the best thing you can do is talk with your loved one’s doctor and make sure they’re getting the help they deserve.