Skip to content

    Alzheimer's Disease Health Center

    Select An Article

    How to Manage "Sundowning"

    Font Size
    A
    A
    A

    When you are with someone who has Alzheimer's disease, you may notice big changes in how they act in the late afternoon or early evening. Doctors call it sundowning, or sundown syndrome.

    Fading light seems to be the trigger. The symptoms can get worse as the night goes on and usually get better by morning.

    Recommended Related to Alzheimer's

    What Is Early-Onset Alzheimer's Disease?

    You forget things. It’s not just the occasional name or date, or misplaced keys, but people and events that have been part of the fabric of your life. Sometimes the way home from work doesn't seem familiar. You go in the kitchen to make dinner and can't follow the recipe. You've gotten some notices on your electric or water bill, after years without a late payment. But you're in your late 40s, so it couldn't be Alzheimer's disease, could it? It might. These things can sometimes happen to anyone,...

    Read the What Is Early-Onset Alzheimer's Disease? article > >

    Although you may not be able to stop it completely, you can take steps to help manage this challenging time of day so you both sleep better and are less tired during the day. Let your loved one’s doctor know what changes you have seen, too.

    Symptoms

    When someone is sundowning, they may be:

    • Agitated (upset or anxious)
    • Restless
    • Irritable
    • Confused
    • Disoriented
    • Demanding
    • Suspicious

    They also may:

    • Yell
    • Pace
    • Hear or see things that aren’t there
    • Have mood swings

     Up to 1 out of 5 people with Alzheimer’s get sundown syndrome. But it can also happen to older people who don’t have dementia.

    Causes

    Doctors aren’t sure why sundowning happens.

    Some scientists think that changes in the brain of someone with dementia might affect their inner “body clock.” The area of the brain that signals when you’re awake or asleep breaks down in people with Alzheimer’s. That could cause sundowning.

    It may be more likely if your loved one is:

    • Too tired
    • Hungry or thirsty
    • Depressed
    • In pain
    • Bored
    • Having sleep problems

    What happens around someone can also set off sundowning symptoms. Some triggers are:

    • Less light and more shadows in the house. This can cause confusion and fear.
    • Trouble separating dreams from reality. This can be disorienting.

    If you feel tired or frustrated at the end of a day of caregiving, your loved one may notice, even without you saying anything. This can upset them, too. It’s normal for you, as a caregiver, to have feelings like that. Try to be aware of how you manage those emotions if you think that might make a difference.

    How to Help Someone Who Is Sundowning

    Look for patterns. Note the things that seem to trigger it, and then do your best to avoid or limit those triggers.

    Next Article:

    Today on WebMD

    Remember your finger
    When it’s more than just forgetfulness.
    senior man with serious expression
    Which kinds are treatable?
     
    senior man
    Common symptoms to look for.
    mri scan of human brain
    Can drinking red wine reverse the disease?
     
    Checklist
    ARTICLE
    eating blueberries
    ARTICLE
     
    clock
    Article
    Colored mri of brain
    ARTICLE
     
    Human brain graphic
    ARTICLE
    mature woman
    ARTICLE
     
    Woman comforting ailing mother
    ARTICLE
    Senior woman with serious expression
    ARTICLE