Because Alzheimer's signs can vary on a case-by-case basis, it is hard to characterize Alzheimer's disease and what stage it's in. However, many people with Alzheimer's have a tendency to display their symptoms during certain periods of the day. This condition is more commonly referred to as "sundowning."
As WebMD documents, sundowning is a syndrome that almost exclusively affects individuals with dementia and Alzheimer's disease. The term is used because when the hours turn to evening and the sun goes down, it's at this time that signs of Alzheimer's become most pronounced.
WebMD notes that sundowning is common among approximately 20 percent of those with Alzheimer's disease. People with this condition tend to become exceedingly forgetful when there is less daylight and may become easily confused. Other characteristics of the disorder include delirium, agitation, heightened anxiety and overall sense of restlessness.
Because of this uneasiness, it's normal for those who sundown to pace the floor repeatedly, wander, yell or become physically combative in the nighttime hours, WebMD notes.
When it is diagnosed
While sundowning can occur at any stage in the life cycle of Alzheimer's it typically peaks around stage 3 or stage 4 of Alzheimer's. As the disease progresses, symptoms become less noticeable, WebMD reports.
Sundowning symptoms can occur at any time in the evening, but they can be prompted by things other than sunlight, or lack thereof. This includes experiencing pain, poor nutrition, being on several medications at once or being in a loud, boisterous environment.
Sundowning varies from person to person, so the effectiveness of treatment often depends on the person. However, WebMD offers a few general guidelines that can help you care for your family member.
One way to help them is to keep them busy and active daily. This can help those who sundown feel sleepier at night, thereby enabling them to rest more soundly. Activity can be increased through more exercise but also by discouraging activities that are sedentary, such as afternoon naps or board games.
Another way to lessen the severity of sundowning is through a better accounting of your patient's eating habits. This can be done by limiting caffeine and sugar consumption, both in amounts and when they are consumed. In addition, it can be helpful to have dinner in the late afternoon hours rather than in the evening and to practice portion control for bedtime snacks, WebMD states.