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Sundowning: It’s a mysterious syndrome that few people understand but many seniors experience. According to a 2019 study conducted in the National Library of Medicine, nearly “20% to 45% of people suffering from Alzheimer’s will experience sundowning syndrome.” With such a high statistic it’s imperative for caregivers and home health aides to understand the symptoms, causes, and strategies of sundowning syndrome. 

What is sundowning syndrome?

Sundowning syndrome, also known as late day confusion, is a symptom that affects elderly individuals living with dementia and Alzheimer’s. While the effects vary, seniors will often be seen displaying symptoms of pacing, aggression, wandering, or other signs of discomfort. 

Another common component can be found within the name, as the term sundowning derives from the fact that these symptoms tend to correspond as the sun sets. 

What causes sundowning?

At the writing of this article, it is still not understood exactly why sundowning occurs. There are a myriad of theories out there. A prevalent theory is that Alzheimer’s can affect the way that the brain perceives time. Namely, it confuses the biological clock, thus confusing sleep-wake cycles. When the sun starts going down, the senior sees external evidence that contradicts their internal understanding of time. They then grow agitated at this discrepancy, and begin sundowning.

How can caregivers manage sundowning syndrome?

Although there is not a clear understanding of the cause of sundowning syndrome, there are still preventative and mitigative efforts that can help the elderly individual.  

Conduct light therapy

There are some theories that sundowning syndrome can be prevented through light therapy. There is some data behind this theory: A 2011 study conducted by Psychiatry Investigation found that light did help reset the circadian rhythm of sundowning seniors. 

Seniors should get a minimum of 3 hours of bright sunlight in the morning to help regulate their circadian rhythm. If you are living with gray skies or winter, a specialized light therapy box can create the simulation of natural light.

Exercise each day

Another component of sundowning is late night restlessness. To combat this symptom, it helps to get an ample amount of exercise during the day. It should be noted that this need not be an excessive training session. A walk around the park, a visit with a grandchild, or a dunk in the local pool can help expel enough energy to combat restlessness.

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