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  • John Robertson

SUNDOWNING: Is your aging parent more confused after supper?




If you have a family member living in a long term care facility, you’re likely already familiar with Sundowning. For those with senior family members who are aging in place, it’s a term that should definitely be on your radar. As explained by the Mayo Clinic, “Sundowning” is a term used to describe behaviours that begin in the late afternoon and persist into the night that may include confusion, anxiety, aggression, increased pacing, wandering, emotional outbursts, swearing, and paranoia. Sundowning is not consistent, and these behaviours may not occur daily, making the condition challenging to identify and investigate.


The exact cause of these behavioural changes is unknown, but they can be indicative of dementia (changes in the brain) or symptoms of an infection. Some sources state that there are as many as 44 types of dementia of which Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common. Given this staggering prevalence, it’s no wonder that Sundowning is a major concern. Witnessing Sundowning behaviours can be incredibly distressing to family on a variety of levels, but especially when observed in a loved one who lives alone with little or no home support.


Prevention is key to managing these symptoms and because Sundowning happens late in the day, when energy and brain power are decreasing, having set routines is the first line of defense. Every person is different but promoting a quiet evening routine can be helpful. Keep lights at a brighter, ‘daylight’ level until close to bedtime and avoid afternoon stimulants like coffee, alcohol, and sugar. Distraction or diversion are helpful tactics when Sundowning leads to upset or anger.


The good news is that we live in a time when technology is advancing in ways that are very helpful in keeping our older loved ones safe at home. Whether you live near an aging parent or further away, community resources are plentiful and new technology solutions, like those offered by HomeEXCEPT, aid in monitoring pattern of life and shifts in normal behaviour.


If you believe that Sundowning or other dementia related behaviours are a concern for your family and you aren’t sure what steps to take next, reach out and we’d be happy to help you explore solutions.


Vital Signs Nurse Consulting conducts health checkups on older adult at home to provide real-time health status updates and peace of mind to their families who are near or far.


Tiana McCallum has 30 years’ experience in the fields of nursing and education. Her background includes several years in long term care as well as her personal experience of settling her father into a care facility. RN@vitalsignsnurse.ca


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