Sundowner’s Syndrome

What is Sundowner’s Syndrome?

Sundowner’s syndrome is the term to describe the combination of symptoms, like agitation, anxiety, confusion, irritability, mood changes, etc. that many seniors with dementia or cognitive impairment experience. The term “sundowner” appropriately hints towards the time of day these unfavorable symptoms tend to surface. While Sundowner’s can strike at any time of day, for most seniors it appears in the late afternoon and early evening.

Medical research suggests that it is the shifting of the biological clock in seniors with dementia that makes them more susceptible to Sundowner’s. Since human’s natural circadian rhythms respond to the loss of sunlight during this time of day, it’s only natural to feel more depressed in the evening. These theories as they relate to Sundowner’s symptoms do make sense. However, it’s just a small glimpse to shed some light on this mysterious, and oftentimes misunderstood, condition.

Caregivers to the elderly with dementia or Alzheimer’s would largely agree that the most difficult time of day for their duties is as sundown approaches. In addition to the body’s natural clock and rhythms, it’s thought that during this time of day seniors are tired and over-stimulated. It’s also possible that a drop in blood pressure, spike in hunger and changes in glucose levels play a role. While there is no cut and dry diagnostic process or treatment, there are some things a caregiver can do to lessen the degree to which seniors experience Sundowner’s symptoms.

Regulate sleep. Having a normal wake, nap, sleep routine makes all the difference. Limit daytime naps to a brief 20 minutes, only once or twice a day. This allows the senior to feel refreshed going into sundown, but not overly rested, as to avoid insomnia at bedtime.

Plan an appropriate daytime activity. Getting out of the house, and doing an activity like taking a walk, gardening or visiting a museum can have rejuvenating effects. Even just staying in, reading a book or playing a game provides the senior with a stronger sense of purpose which boosts their mental well being.

Keep the setting calm and bright. Take advantage of natural light during the day, and as sundown approaches maintain a well lit environment. This will detract away from the darkness outside and keep the mood light and relaxing.

If attempts are made with little to no success at keeping Sundowner’s symptoms at bay, it might be time to consult with a doctor. Medication to alleviate symptoms may help. A doctor can recommend an appropriate dosage of medication specifically suited for controlling even the most challenging sundowner’s symptoms.

Warm Weather Safety

Warm Weather Safety for Seniors

Hot weather and extreme temperatures can pose a threat for people of all ages. When a person’s body is unable to compensate for the heat and cool itself down properly, they experience heat-related illnesses. Summer sun and heat are particularly dangerous for the elderly, and those with chronic medical conditions are more at risk. Recent research indicates that nearly 40% of all heat-related deaths were among people over 65. Unfortunately, climate changes may increase these numbers even more in the upcoming years.

There are several reasons for a senior’s vulnerability to heat. The elderly have a particularly hard time adjusting to changes in temperature. A person’s ability to recognize changes in body temperature also decreases with age. A senior is not nearly as aware of their body temperature as a younger adult. For a person on prescription medication, it can contribute to dehydration which intensifies the threat even more.

Heat exhaustion is a milder type of heat-related illness and is typified as dehydration that occurs after prolonged exposure to high temperatures. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include muscle cramps, headache, dizziness, fatigue and confusion. Heat stroke is the most serious of all heat-related conditions. Heat stroke is dehydration as well as the body physically overheating unable to bring down its own temperature. The most distinguishable sign of heat stroke is a body temperature of 104° or higher. Additional symptoms include distorted mental state, flushed skin, nausea, vomiting, rapid breathing and racing heart beat.

Here are a few tips to staying safe in the summer heat:

  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Wear appropriate clothing
  • Stay inside during the warmest time of day—10am-4pm
  • Keep an eye on the heat index
  • Find an air-conditioned environment to cool down
  • Learn the risks and warning signs of heat-related illness

In our area, we oftentimes experience extremely hot and humid summers. It’s important that everyone, particularly the elderly, have a heat response plan especially if they live alone and without air conditioning. This is a critical component to limiting heat exposure as well as maintaining the safety and comfort of the elderly during the hottest temperatures. If you or a loved one lives alone and without air conditioning, make a plan to stay with family or friends during the very hot days that lie ahead.

Pets + Seniors

Animals—Companions and Healers

Animals can have a special healing effect on people of all ages. While health care is typically viewed as a combination of diagnostics, procedures, and medications offered in a medical setting, animals are becoming more and more of a popular, yet unconventional alternative. In fact, research actually shows that animals have the unique ability to heal in ways different than traditional medicine.

Animal-assisted therapy and visiting animal programs are popular in hospitals, long-term care facilities and nursing homes across the country. Whether a senior is bedridden or handicapped, struggling with dementia symptoms or undergoing intensive rehabilitation, programs are available that draw on the kind, gentle nature of animals as a source of healing. Ever notice that many doctor offices have fish tanks in their waiting rooms? Research indicates that watching fish, turtles or other amphibians swim can help patients relax.

Animals are also excellent long-term companions. They provide the kindness, support and companionship that the elderly require to live a quality lifestyle. Animals also live in the moment which can greatly influence a senior who oftentimes worries about what the future might bring. During a time when a senior may feel like they depend on everyone and no one depends on them, a pet fills that void.

There are many health benefits for senior pet owners…

  • Relieves seniors of the loneliness associated with aging
  • Lowers blood pressure and reduce stress
  • Increases social interaction and encourages physical activity
  • Stimulates the mind and encourages a healthy memory
  • Improves mood, reduces feelings like depression and anxiety
  • Promotes a daily routine and healthy behaviors
  • Provides a sense of purpose and responsibility
  • Presents a senior with a committed companion and friend
  • Offers the unconditional love and affection that most seniors crave

In addition to these benefits, studies suggest that senior pet owners make fewer visits to the doctor and are more active, social and feel a greater sense of security. If you or a loved one is interested in an animal companion, do the necessary research. The decision to own a pet is not one to take lightly. Consider your lifestyle including how much time you have to attribute to your pet, as well as what type best fits your daily routine.