If you’re caring for someone with dementia or Alzheimer's disease, you may have noticed big changes in how they act in the late afternoon or early evening. Doctors call it sundowning, or sundown syndrome.
It seems to be triggered by fading light, and the symptoms can get worse as the night goes on.
Rosemary Orange, 53, of Ottawa, Ontario, suspected something was wrong with her 83-year-old mother, Sylvia. "She'd go shopping and forget what she was doing," Orange says. "So she'd come right back home without buying anything."
Several months later, Orange's mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, a type of dementia that affects nearly 36 million people worldwide. That rate is expected to nearly double in the next 20 years, according to the World Health Organization.
What can you do if a parent...
You can do things to help both of you sleep better and be less tired during the day, though.
Sundowning can make caring for someone extra-challenging. They may be:
They also may
Hear or see things
Have mood swings
Up to 1 out of 5 people with Alzheimer’s get sundown syndrome. But it can also happen to older people without dementia.
It usually starts during the middle stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Sundowning symptoms fade as the disease gets worse.
What Causes It?
We don’t know for sure why sundowning happens.
Some scientists think that changes in the brain of someone with dementia might mess up their internal body clock. The area of the brain that signals when you’re awake or asleep breaks down in people with Alzheimer’s. That might cause sundowning.