Dementia, Mild Cognitive Impairment & Sundown Syndrome
Caregivers of people with mild cognitive impairment and dementia are usually familiar with the fact that during the late afternoon and early evening their patients seem to get progressively worse than earlier in the day. This phenomenon is referred to as sundowner syndrome, or sundowning, and describes the increased agitation and confusion people with dementia, Alzheimer’s and mild cognitive impairment experience during sunset. Although this syndrome is associated with dementia, doctors and nurses report that patients who do not have dementia also seem to get worse when they are in hospitals, experiencing more pain.
Is Sundown Syndrome Real?
Sundown syndrome does appear to be real; even new mothers often describe the timeframe between 5 and 8pm as the most colicky time for their babies. During the evening, they seem to cry more, are less able to be calmed and are generally more cranky. It is no surprise that this syndrome can affect others, especially people with dementia and mild cognitive disorder.
One of the reasons for sundown syndrome’s effect is believed to be the biological clock, our internal guide that is controlled by circadian rhythms, which lets our bodies know that it’s time to wake up, eat, or sleep. Biological clocks of healthy people are typically in sync with the time of day, but people with dementia may have their internal clocks shift, causing confusion and behavior changes when day switches to night.
Another possible cause for sundowning is hunger, which is especially important for people with diabetes. After we eat a meal, our body experiences a dip in blood pressure, which lowers oxygen levels in the brain, as well as a drop in glucose levels. Since most people have lunch at 12pm, and don’t have dinner until 7 or 8pm, hunger can cause confusion and agitation around evening time.
Vision problems can be another source of the intensification of dementia and Alzheimer’s symptoms during sundowning. When the sun sets, it can be harder for individuals to see, especially those with vision problems. Caring.com provides an example of an man who called the police because the shadows created by the slats in his blinds caused him to believe there were people robbing his house.
Tips on Helping Dementia Patients Deal with Sundowning
To help individuals with dementia and mild cognitive impairment deal with the sundown syndrome, there are several tips.
Change the Lights
Caring.com recommends “placing a full-spectrum fluorescent lamp (between 2,500 and 5,000 lux) about 1 meter from the person suffering from sundown syndrome and within his visual field for a couple of hours in the morning can work wonders at getting his biological clock back on track and making him less agitated at sundown.”
Increase Feeding Times
If the person is agitated during sundowning, caretakers should try to provide an earlier meal, or snacks right around 4 to 5pm to keep blood sugar and pressure levels from dropping, thereby reducing confusion and agitation.
Oftentimes, no amount of effort will help a person who is sundowning understand that no threat is near. In this situation, the caretaker should focus on helping the individual relax. A massage, smooth and calm reassurance, a pat on the hand, or a walk can do the trick to get the person to calm down a bit.
Los Angeles Dementia Clinical Trials
While there is no cure for dementia or mild cognitive impairment, there are Los Angeles clinical trials that are being held to find a dementia medication. By enrolling in this paid clinical research, your will help the person suffering be around people with the same condition, helping them to bond and share their experience. Additionally, they will be able to get state-of-the-art medical care and tests free of charge. Finally, they could be the first to try a dementia treatment that actually works!
For more information about Los Angeles dementia medical trials, contact Pacific Institute of Medical Research at (310) 208-7144 or go online to find out more information.