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I want to begin this entry with a brief but in my opinion accurate excerpt from an article. I have included the link so you may view the entire entry.
Glenn Smith, Ph.D.
“The term “sundowning” refers to a state of confusion at the end of the day and into the night. Sundowning isn’t a disease, but a symptom that often occurs in people with dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease. The cause isn’t known. But factors that may aggravate late-day confusion include: fatigue, Low lighting, Increased shadows. When sundowning occurs in a care facility, it may be related to the flurry of activity during staff shift changes. Staff arriving and leaving may cue some people with Alzheimer’s to want to go home or to check on their children — or other behaviors that were appropriate in the late afternoon in their past. It may help to occupy their time during that period.
In the setting I work in, Sundowning is a common behavior. In many cases the patients were busy people, working people with children or homes and meals to be taken care of. Because they experienced a transition in their daily activities in the evening for so many years, they seem to feel a need for a change of scenery, or feel an urgency to exit even now.
Many times the behaviors can be diverted by finding out from the patient what is they feel they need to be doing and finding an appropriate diversion. For example I find with one patient if I extend an invite to stay for dinner, explaining we would love to have the company, more times than not the patient “chooses to stay” because it is the polite thing to do! In many cases all you can do is try to distract the patient, some will respond to being re-oriented to their surroundings explaining that they are home, that there is no need for them to leave. Unfortunately not every patient will respond to re-orientation. Sometimes walking them to a different area of the floor can be enough of a change to relieve their distress, or creating a daily routine; you may need to be very creative in finding ways to de-escalate. Knowing a little about your patients day-to-day life prior to their diagnosis can help you to find triggers, what did they do for a living? Did they have children? What was their role at home?
Because the exact cause of Sundowning is not known, and because of the complexity of each patient, managing the behaviors associated with Sundowning can be difficult. If you can find what triggers each patient has, remain in routine and learn about your patients history, you have a few essential tools to get you started.