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Alzheimer’s: Answers to Common Questions

8. Do the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease vary by the time of day?

Many people with the disease get confused, anxious, and agitated at dusk and into the evening hours. It’s called sundown syndrome, or sundowning. The problems may last a few hours or throughout the night.

Doctors don’t know exactly what causes sundowning, but they think a lot of different things play a role. Those could include physical and mental exhaustion (after a long day), and a shift in the body’s internal clock that happens with the change from daylight to dark. Some people with Alzheimer's have trouble sleeping at night, which may also make confusion worse. Some medications can add to the problem, too.

Some ways for you and your loved one to handle sundowning:

  • Schedule harder tasks early in the day when she’s less likely to get agitated.
  • Watch her diet and eating habits. Offer sweets and drinks with caffeine only in the morning hours. Serve her a late afternoon snack or early dinner.
  • Offer her decaffeinated herbal tea or warm milk. They might help her relax.
  • Keep the house or room well lit. Close the drapes before the sun goes down so she doesn't watch it get dark outside.
  • If she falls asleep on the sofa or in a chair, let her stay there. Don't wake her to go to bed.
  • Distract her with things she enjoys. Soothing music or a favorite video may help.
  • Encourage her to be physically active during the day. It may help her to sleep better at night.

9. Are people in the early stages of the disease still interested in sex?

No one has studied sexuality in Alzheimer's. But many people with disease also have a mood disorder, such as depression, or other medical problem, which can lead to sexual problems. Medications that treat these conditions can also affect someone’s sex life. People with dementia often feel less interested in many areas of their lives, like their appearance, clothes, and friends. That may affect their sex drive, too.

If your partner has Alzheimer’s and you’re concerned about their sexuality, try the following:

  • Ask your loved one's doctor if she might have a mood disorder.
  • Make sure she’s getting treatment for any medical problems that may make her feel worse, like pain from arthritis.
  • Ask her doctor how her medications might affect her sexuality.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on March 07, 2014
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