Alzheimer's Disease Frequently Asked Questions
8. Do the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease vary by the time of day?
Sundown syndrome -- also called sundowning -- is a behavior common in people with Alzheimer's disease. It describes the confusion, anxiety, agitation, or disorientation that often occur at dusk and into the evening hours. The episodes may last a few hours or throughout the night.
While the exact cause of sundown syndrome is not known, experts believe there are several contributing factors. These include physical and mental exhaustion (after a long day), and a shift in the "internal body clock" caused by the change from daylight to dark. Some people with Alzheimer's disease have trouble sleeping at night, which may contribute to their disorientation. Medication that can cause agitation or confusion also may contribute to this syndrome.
Sundown syndrome can be draining for the person with Alzheimer's disease and his or her caregivers. Here are some suggestions for helping a loved one with sundown syndrome cope:
- Schedule the day so that the more difficult tasks are done early in the day, when the person is less likely to become agitated.
- Watch the person's diet and eating habits. Restrict sweets and drinks with caffeine to the morning hours. Try serving the person a late afternoon snack or early dinner.
- To help the person relax, try decaffeinated herbal tea or warm milk.
- Keep the house or room well lit. Close the drapes before the sun goes down so that the person doesn't watch it become dark outside.
- If the person falls asleep on the sofa or in a chair, let him or her stay there. Don't wake the person to go to bed.
- Try distracting the person with activities he or she enjoys. Soothing music or a favorite video may help, as well.
- Encourage the person to engage in some physical activity -- such as walking, if able -- during the day. This may help him or her to sleep better at night.
9. When will an Alzheimer's disease vaccine be available?
One of the first Alzheimer's disease vaccines to undergo clinical testing produced an unacceptably high rate of serious side effects, and the trial was discontinued. Other vaccines are being studied.
10. Does the desire for sex diminish or totally disappear in people with early or mid-stage Alzheimer's disease?
Sexuality has not been studied in Alzheimer's disease per se. However, many individuals with Alzheimer's disease have a mood disorder such as depression or other medical problem, which can contribute to sexual problems. In addition, medications used to treat depression or other medical problems can also cause sexual problems. Many persons with dementia also have decreased motivation that affects much of their lives, such as their interest in their appearance, clothes, friends, etc., and may affect their sexual function, as well.
If you are concerned about your partner's sexuality, try the following recommendations:
- Have your loved one's doctor assess the presence of a mood disorder, which may cause sexual problems.
- Make sure your loved one's medical problems are managed properly. For example, if they have pain from arthritis, make sure they are treated.
- Have your loved one's doctor review each medication for its possible effect on sexuality.