The U.S. population is getting older, and as it ages, Alzheimer's disease is becoming an increasingly bigger concern. Within the next 50 years, the incidence of Alzheimer's is expected to quadruple, affecting one in 45 Americans.
Today, there is still no cure for Alzheimer's. People with the disease progressively lose memory and the ability to function. Researchers are still trying to fully understand how its brain plaques and tangles lead to memory loss and other cognitive, behavioral and psychiatric...
Sundowning typically peaks during the middle stages of Alzheimer's. It gets better as the disease progresses.
What Causes Sundowning?
The causes of sundowning are not well understood.
Some research suggests that sundowning may be related to changes to the brain's circadian pacemaker. That's a cluster of nerve cells that keeps the body on a 24-hour clock.
Studies in mice suggest that chemical changes in the brain that are characteristic of Alzheimer's disease may play a role. Researchers found that older mice make more of an enzyme that's associated with anxiety and agitation before they go to sleep than middle-aged mice do.
Several things may increase the risk for sundowning. These include:
Medical advice. A doctor can look for physical problems like pain, infections, or bladder problems that may be contributing to nighttime confusion and agitation. They should also regularly review prescription medications to make sure they are still needed.
Light therapy. Exposure to bright lights, like the sun, during the day may reduce some sundowning symptoms, especially when used in combination with exercise, like walking.
Good sleeping environment. Allow the patient to change bedrooms or to sleep in a favorite chair or couch. Keeping the room partially lit may also help to reduce confusion when the person wakes during the night.
Calm reassurance. Gently help your loved one remember where he is and what time it is. Avoid arguing and offer reassurance that he is OK.