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Today in my area of Pennsylvania it is rainy and cold. It’s the kind of day where staying in bed seems like the best idea in the world. If I feel that way with out a Dementia diagnosis imagine how someone with dementia perceives this day.
- “It’s kind of dark out it must be evening.”
- “I have no energy, it must be the end of the day!”
- “I don’t feel like doing anything.”
These are all typical feelings, conclusions and even statements by people with Dementia on a rainy day. We all understand that. Some days you just have to get up and “do the next thing”. The only problem is with dementia you don’t always know what the next thing is. These are the days that the routines I spoke about in my earlier post make such a difference
And then there is the Sundowning! “What is that?” you may wonder. Sundowning is a unique confusion that is brought on by Dementia as the sun goes down in the evening. It’s common for people with Dementia especially those with Alzheimer’s disease to experience increased confusion, anxiety, agitation, pacing and disorientation that starts at dusk when the sun goes down and continues throughout the night. This behavior is commonly referred to as “sun-downing”. Even worse this behavior can totally throw off the body’s sleep-wake cycle, which just causes more behavioral problems late in the day and sometimes sleeplessness at night.
After years of working in a dementia unit I observed that sundowning can occur on rainy days or cloudy winter days just as easily as it occurs as the sun goes down on a typical day. If sundowning is a response to darkness that makes perfect sense.
How do you cope with Sundowning?
- Turn on the light. Keeping your house well-lit will limit confusion. Some people feel that Ottlite brand lamps work best for this because they mimic actual sunlight. (see links below) Marked improvement has been noted in many individuals with such light exposure so if they do puzzles put an ottlite by the table. If they read put it next to their chair. You get the idea.
- Stick with the daily routine- The routine adds structure and predictability as well as providing an essence of “time” to those who can no longer grasp the concept of time. If they don’t recognize the time of day but they do recognize that after lunch we always go for a walk then maybe a trip to the mall on a rainy day to walk indoors is a good alternative. They will then get out, get exercise and not doze off in the chair reducing the likelihood of increased confusion and poor sleep at night.
- Make notes about when sundowning occurs so you can figure out what triggers it. Is it the weather? Too much stimulation during the day? Not enough stimulation during the day? Lack of exercise? Loud TV or Music? Certain activities?Raising your own awareness of environmental triggers can reduce your frustration as you do your best to offer what your loved one needs each day. You can’t avoid what you don’t know about.