Senior man in pajamas sitting outside house at night

As the sun begins to set, the majority of us can relax after a long day and plan for a quiet evening to unwind – unless of course you’re providing care for someone with dementia. Sundowning, or sundown syndrome, is a frequent occurrence in Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia, and can produce restless, sleepless nights of anxiety, disorientation, confusion, and agitation – for a couple of hours as the sun sets, or even for the whole night.

The actual cause behind sundowning behaviors is not fully understood, but contributing factors can include:

  • A disturbance in the senior’s internal body clock
  • A need for decreased sleep
  • Medication side effects
  • The inability to distinguish reality from dreams, triggering disorientation
  • Mental and/or physical fatigue and exhaustion from a frustrating day

For tips on how to manage sundowning in dementia, try these strategies:

  • Just before the sun sets, pull down window shades and close drapes, so that the older adult can’t see the darkening sky – and, make sure that there’s plenty of light throughout the home.
  • Try to organize the older adult’s day to incorporate lots of activity and deter late day napping.
  • Switch to calming, soothing activities at the end of the day. Turn off the television, play quiet music, and give the senior a cup of warm herbal tea or milk.
  • Pay attention to the older adult’s eating habits during the day, limiting sweets and caffeine to the morning hours and serving an earlier dinner.
  • Talk with the older adult’s doctor for advice and also to confirm there aren’t any underlying physical conditions contributing to the problem, such as incontinence or other bladder issues or anything contributing to physical pain. The doctor may suggest a medication to help the older adult to relax in the evening.

If, regardless of these approaches, your loved one is still agitated and staying awake during the nighttime hours, there are several steps you can take to help. To begin with, remain calm and steer clear of arguing or getting into lengthy conversations. Simply provide assurance that your senior loved one is safe and everything is all right. See if there is anything he or she needs, and after addressing any particular concerns, gently remind the person of the time, and suggest getting some rest. Your loved one may also feel more comfortable in a new sleeping environment, such as in a favorite chair or guest bedroom, making use of nightlights or other indirect, soft lighting.

Home With You Senior Care, and our Ellicott City elder care experts (also available in nearby areas) offer a great solution to sundowning or any other challenging behaviors. We’re available to take the night shift and help seniors take part in calming and pleasant activities when sleep eludes them, giving family caregivers the chance to get the rest they need. We even provide around-the-clock, live-in care to make certain seniors are safe and well cared for any time of day.

To learn more about our Ellicott City elder care services ( also available within the surrounding communities) call us at 410-756-0959 any time and let us create a customized care plan to meet your particular needs, and improve quality of life for a senior you love.