5 Safety Tips To Reduce Sundowning: How To Keep Your Loved One From Wandering

  • Neurology
  • April 7, 2023

Sundowning is an unwanted side effect of dementia which can lead to unsafe wandering. These 5 tips can help keep loved ones safe.

A Disorienting Dementia Condition

Sundowning is a common occurrence for people with dementia. Dementia patients can show increased behavioral changes such as irritability, confusion, anxiety, and disorientation. These symptoms show up late in the day and can continue into the night, impacting sleep. Sundowning happens in advanced stages and can be stressful for both the patient and caregiver. The condition can even cause wandering, where a loved one leaves the location and loses sense of direction.

Causes and dangers of sundowning

Scientists cannot pinpoint the exact reason for sundowning. Most predict the reasons are a combination of physical, psychological, and hormonal changes. For instance, there can be a disruption to the body’s internal body clock, causing confusion. A lack of sunlight, tiredness, changing environments, or the side effect of certain drugs can also cause sundowning. The condition can be dangerous as there is a higher chance of injury, insomnia, and wandering. Sometimes sundowning is unavoidable. However, these 5 safety tips may help keep loved ones with dementia safe.

1. Get some sunlight

Most patients with dementia are indoors or at safety facilities. Yet, a lack of sunlight could be the reason for sundowning episodes. Sunlight will help the body’s natural clock and circadian rhythms. A sunny walk with fresh air can get the blood pumping and reset the internal clock.

2. Try stress-reduction techniques

Dementia is a stressful condition for many patients and caregivers. The added stress can lead to irritability, anxiety, and confusion in the evenings. Find ways to reduce stress, which will, in turn, reduce wandering. Pleasant sounds, smells, reading, and relaxing activities all help.

3. A structured day matters

Over time, dementia patients will need structure to understand people, places, and time. A haphazard day can lead to stress and irritability. Some may have needs to be filled at a particular time, like hunger or sleep. Others expect to be at a specific location at a particular time. As best as possible, keep the same schedule to prevent sundowning and wandering.

4. Find and remove triggers

With proper observation, loved ones will notice that some things trigger sundowning. Common examples include loud noises, an uncomfortable environment, hunger, or an unstated need. Record the circumstances leading up to sundowning. Then, communicate with the patient or loved one to see if there is a specific need. Discover the root cause and remove the triggers.

5. Calm things down in the evening

Watching television, loud noises, sugar intake, and harsh lighting can spike dopamine levels in the body. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter and hormone that help with excitement, mood, and motivation. For dementia patients, the stimulation can lead to energy spikes in the evening. Creating a calming environment closer to dusk with lower lights and quieter sounds can help. In the evening, keep doors closed to prevent unwanted wandering.

Keep loved ones with dementia safe

Sundowning can be dangerous if left unaddressed. People with dementia can begin to wander, bringing additional stress and panic to caretakers. Cases of sundowning will increase as the disease progresses. However, setting a good routine and establishing a comfortable environment can help. These changes can help patients understand the time of day, making life safer for all involved.

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