3 MIN READ | Cognitive Psychology

What Are the Signs That a Loved One Is Experiencing Sundowners?

Tommy Williamson

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Tommy Williamson, (2021, March 19). What Are the Signs That a Loved One Is Experiencing Sundowners?. Psychreg on Cognitive Psychology. https://www.psychreg.org/sundowners/
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Sundowners, or sundown syndrome, is a series of symptoms memory care patients can experience. It’s a state of confusion that coincides with the sun going down. It often occurs in late-stage dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. There are a few typical symptoms most patients experience. 

Typical signs of sundown syndrome

  • Agitation
  • Restlessness
  • Confusion
  • Irritability
  • Being suspicious
  • Demanding
  • Mood Swings
  • Disorientation
  • Trouble sleeping

Your loved one may experience some or all of these symptoms. Always speak with their medical team to verify it is sundowner’s syndrome and to have them professionally diagnosed.

Potential situations that increases sundowners

Doctors don’t know the exact cause of the condition. But they are aware of what increases the signs.

  • Fatigue
  • Increased shadows from low lighting
  • Low lighting, mimicking the decrease in daylight
  • Changes to routine
  • Lack of cerebral activity (boredom)
  • Depression
  • Hunger 
  • Thirst
  • Stress
  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine

The best way to reduce signs is to prevent as many of these situations that agitate your loved one. 

How to reduce sundowner’s symptoms

You can’t prevent every situation that may lead to sundown syndrome. But there are several steps you can take to reduce the chances of your loved one experiencing these disorienting signs. 

Lessen fatigue

One of the most significant ways you can help your loved one is by sundowners. There are a few ways you can handle this issue. First, address immediate fatigue with an early afternoon nap. A short rest that’s not too late in the day can refresh them and help get them past sundown to enjoy the rest of their evening before bed. 

A nap that’s too late in the day can backfire, reduce nighttime sleep, and increase daytime tiredness. To assist with falling asleep at the same time every night, stick with the same after-dinner routine. Limit overstimulation in the evening to improve sleep onset. Have the same wake-up time daily to keep loved ones on a strict schedule.

Increase light

Another potential cause of sundowners is an increase in shadows and reduced light. Experts don’t know the exact reason this occurs. They believe that it happens because the brain has trouble adjusting to the different amounts of light. The best type of light is natural sunshine. If you can’t increase indoor light, make sure you take your loved one outside to enjoy the sunlight.

Stick to a daily schedule

Routine is essential for people with memory care disorders. Sundown syndrome often worsens when the patient’s routine is interrupted. Get up at the same time every morning. Keep the same plan, dress, eat breakfast, brush teeth, complete daily activities, and have lunch. Continue with an early afternoon nap followed by exercise and sun-time. Eat dinner, schedule quiet evening activities, and go to bed at the same time every night. As bland as it sounds, it’s one of the best practices for avoiding sundowner’s signs.

Increase daytime cognitive and physical activity

To reduce cognitive decline, you need to keep the mind and body active. Stick to activities that your loved one enjoys and can complete without stress. Keep tasks on their level. Options can include watching movies, listening to music, playing cards, assisted gardening, or simple exercises, such as stretches. In the evening, go for a walk when the weather permits. Nothing long or strenuous. Just enough to wind down and get some energy out for bed. 

Avoid confrontation and stay calm

If your loved one is agitated becomes aggressive, avoid confronting them. Don’t argue. Reassure them everything is OK, and above else, remain calm. Let them safely pace or move around where you can keep an eye on them. Avoid visitors during these times that may increase agitation. 

Take care of yourself

Don’t forget self-care. Your loved ones can sense when you’re stress, and it can increase sundowner’s symptoms. The best way to take care of them is to practice self-love, get quality sleep, eat nutritious meals, and exercise regularly. If you need a break, ask another relative to step in or hire a home health care provider for backup to ensure your loved one’s safety while you take a break.

Other tips to reduce worsening symptoms

  • Keep the home’s temperature comfortable
  • Don’t skip meals
  • Have water available to drink to prevent excess thirst
  • Snacks can prevent hunger triggers
  • Reduce electronic device usage before bed
  • Keep their bedroom cool and dark to improve sleep quality

If you’re in the US, to learn more about Next Door’s memory care, contact them at 1-877-588-8609.


Tommy Williamson did his degree in psychology at the University of Edinburgh. He has an ongoing interest in mental health and well-being.


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