While individuals with dementia deal with memory loss, changes in personality, and decreased mental acuity, they may also experience a condition known as sundowner’s syndrome, or ‘sundowning.’ Patients with sundowner’s experience agitation, confusion, and hyperactivity during the nighttime. Although all people with sundowner’s have dementia, not all people with dementia have sundowner’s. Being diagnosed with both can present quite the challenge for both the individual and their caregiver(s).
Sundowner’s Syndrome Symptoms
Medical News Today was able to compile a list of the common sundowner’s syndrome symptoms. These changes tend to occur later in the afternoon, during the evening, and at night. They include:
- Reduced attention levels
- Agitation and restlessness
- Sleep disturbance
- Mood changes
Because sundowner’s syndrome symptoms manifest in the later hours of the day, it can be tougher to monitor. Having an elderly family member or patient gain energy in those late hours increases their chances of injury. Therefore, treatment focuses on relaxing the patient so that they do not experience the symptoms mentioned above.
The primary approach to helping patients with sundowner’s syndrome is to implement a number of specific lifestyle changes.
One of these lifestyle changes is the implementation of regular light therapy. Light therapy is the use of artificial light to mimic the benefits that natural sunlight has on the body and mood. This is especially helpful for patients struggling with depression. This therapy allows them to begin their day on a positive note and extend that positivity into the later hours of the night.
Aromatherapy is the second form of home treatment that can be used to treat sundowners. Scents like lavender, rose, ylang-ylang, and chamomile have been found to have calming properties that can help with the agitation that patients experience. Additionally, scents like orange, grapefruit, or lemon can be used to spark energy and wakefulness in the early hours of the day so the patient does not have trouble sleeping later.
Some medications have the potential to cause negative side effects, making caregivers and family members hesitant in considering it as a treatment option. However, there are some medications that can be used to treat sundowners if home treatments should be ineffective.
Sundowner’s can be helped by taking antipsychotic medication. Antipsychotics work well for sundowner’s because they combat the agitation and behavioral issues that accompany the condition. Additionally, antipsychotics have sedative effects which assist in stabilizing the sleep pattern of the patient.
Furthermore, although taking synthetic melatonin does not have a lot of evidence to back up its many benefits, it has been found to stabilize sleep patterns. By taking melatonin, patients are able to experience more restful sleep and avoid any extra spurts of energy they may have during the night.
Since sundowner’s syndrome tends to accompany dementia, it may be difficult for a caregiver or family member to handle the combined symptoms. To combat the agitation and restlessness of sundowner’s, there are some home treatments you may implement as a first option. If those do not seem to work, there are medications that may be able to do the trick.
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