Sundowner’s Syndrome can make nighttime a challenge for some

by Symptom Advice on December 4, 2011

Sadly, the dramatic changes that occur just before and after nightfall can, in some ways, be loosely compared to the words penned in folklore and fiction when “unsuspecting victims” experience unwelcomed transformations and do uncontrollable acts they normally would not do during the day. They may feel remorseful about these the next morning while others may not recall their actions at all.

Many of those who are not familiar with Sundowner’s per se simply know their loved ones have a difficult time at night and, depending on the severity, the symptoms can unfortunately prevent needed, restful sleep for the individual and their caregivers. after my husband and I began hearing about, and even witnessing, similar patterns in those we are close to, we began to research these mysterious metamorphoses and were surprised, not to mention tremendously relieved, to find this was not only recognized as a specific condition but may be, to some degree, treatable depending on the individual.

Much of our personal research suggests one should first be aware of what the sufferer is doing or eating that could be triggers for the negative behavior as well as become very familiar with their medications and their possible side effects. As it relates to treatments we learned that in addition to certain vitamins, herbs, supplements and prescribed drugs, there are some other creative activities that can be tried. one of these is keeping the person busy doing things they find enjoyable. Something as simple as folding clothes, playing games or performing repetitive tasks they may have done earlier in life can be quite beneficial to relieve stress, which is thought to be one of the possible triggers for those afflicted. Our physician’s assistant said these can also be useful diversions when the unpleasant symptoms start to surface in the evening.

Trying to keep the day-to-day activities as consistent as possible can be extremely beneficial. one certified nursing assistant we spoke with recently said that she and her patient’s wife would pack the husband’s lunch daily. then he would “go off to work” to a spot on the back porch where he would replace door knobs, taking them off and putting them back on again. He was in a safe environment, doing something he was good at and staying busy, which we were told is especially important to those who were quite productive in their younger years.

In addition, receiving proper sunlight may combat the depression that sometimes accompanies or could possibly exacerbate this condition. If natural sunlight is not an option, light boxes that mimic sunlight have been reported to be effective. these can also reset the individual’s internal clock if they have their days and nights reversed. Exercise and social activities such as visiting with friends or family can be therapeutic for some folks as well.

We read that nursing homes have experienced positive results in allowing trained animals to interact with patients, and some have found aromatherapy, music or sounds like ocean waves, singing birds and the like to be quite soothing. Hand holding or hand massage treatments have also been used to calm agitation, but these are not effective for those who show signs of anger or violence.

Of course our experience is limited to our personal research and circumstance; therefore, anyone concerned about this topic should seek the advice of their doctor and/or healthcare professional. Even though there is still much to be learned about Sundowner’s, it was comforting to realize the disorder has a name, and there are folks out there with firsthand experience to offer. the Internet and the library were also wonderful resources regarding what is known as well as how to make the best of the situation. one of the most refreshing books we found on the topic of Alzheimer’s is “Finding the Joy in Alzheimer’s: Caregivers Share the Joyful Times” by Brenda Avadian.

The role reversal of becoming a parent to one’s parent or spouse can in some ways be more daunting than being a parent to one’s actual offspring; therefore, relying on whatever support system that is at one’s disposal can be invaluable. If “it takes a village to raise a child” it will surely take a “sympathetic neighborhood” to cope with this challenge. To those who feel a sense of responsibility, trying to courageously handle the experience alone can quickly become overwhelming. Therefore, accepting assistance from trusted friends and family as well as guidance from objective, trained professionals can be so helpful. Maintaining a positive and proactive attitude in keeping with the philosophy that everything happens for a reason can transform the journey from hopelessly agonizing into a life lesson that may someday benefit others.

Even though every situation and person is different, in many ways we as individuals are still quite similar. we all want an enriched quality of life as we travel through it; and with the proper information, support, attitude and faith, hopefully the uncontrollable and the mysterious won’t prevent those affected from embracing and relishing the precious, sweet time spent together.

Jenny Waisner teaches computer classes at Davidson County Community College.

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