Waiting for God

Sundowning

by Brenda Buckley

As the sun begins to set, the world changes for our loved ones with any form of Dementia. At noon, she is lucid, playing scrabble and enjoying conversation. By dinner, confusion has set in, Grandma can no longer put the words or thoughts together to speak or relay her concerns. She doesn’t understand why she needs to eat dinner, or why her deceased husband is late coming to get her after work today.  This change from lucidity to confusion at the end of a day is referred to as Sundowning.

Here is a personal experience:

As I knocked on her door and opened it, I could see her sitting sideways on the chair with her arms wrapped around it, visibly shaken and afraid, crying out, “Help me! Help Me!”. 

I approached her and kneeled asking her to explain what was going on. She told me there was a man on the other side of the fridge door smashing things. I looked around the fridge and the room and there was no sign of anyone else.

I placed her in her wheelchair, and together we checked every nook and cranny there was to check, including down the halls to her room to assure her no one was around. I empathized with her how scary it must be to see something that is scary that no one else can see, acknowledging the feeling that comes with it. Through distraction, and redirection, she was able to calm down and feel safe again. 

Sundowning usually occurs late afternoon, into the evening. This is when many Alzheimer’s or Dementia clients can become:

      • Restless 

      • Agitated
       
      • Aggressive

      • Confused

      • They pace

      • Their behaviour becomes impulsive

      • They may experience auditory or visual hallucinations

      • Tasks that were easy to do during the day, become difficult

    Sundowning is scary for both the one going through it as well as family and loved ones experiencing it with them. Through patience and understanding we can help our loved ones through this.   It is never a good idea to tell them they are wrong, or argue them.  Their experiences are as real as ours, and telling them otherwise does not help.

    Here are some ways to help your loved one through a sundowning experience.

        • Focus on activities that will help them settle

          • Have them talk about memories that you can reminisce together

          • Engage in calming activities, for example, looking at a photo album, or work on a puzzle

        • Ensure adequate lighting so they can see clearly everything around them. Shadows can play tricks on you

        • Items of comfort/familiarity – favourite sweater, blanket

        • Change of scenery sometimes will give your loved one a new focus, even if it’s temporary