It’s common for all of us to start having some trouble with our memory as we age. That’s just a part of getting older! However, if you begin noticing that you’re getting more confused than usual in the later afternoon or early evening on a regular basis, it may be time to talk to your doctor. You could be struggling with a phenomenon called sundowning, which may be a symptom of dementia.
Before diving into exactly what sundowning is, it’s important to understand how dementia works. While Alzheimer’s is the most well-known and common type of dementia, it can come in over 100 different forms; each dealing with abnormal changes to the brain that can alter the way you think and behave. They’re often driven by different types of breakdowns in the way brain cells communicate with each other and the rest of the body, causing memory loss, major shifts in demeanor, agitation, general confusion, and more. There’s no cure for dementia at the moment, but there are strategies for slowing its progression depending on the type someone has. There are also a number of easy ways to prevent it, like eating plenty of fruits and vegetables and exercising regularly.
Based on all of that, sundowning may manifest in a number of different ways in dementia patients. Some people feel may feel particularly confused, aggressive, or anxious in the later afternoon or early evening on a daily basis, while others have more of a tendency to wander, begin pacing unexpectedly, or suddenly become disoriented.
The good news is that sticking to a regular routine can go a long way to reducing the effects of sundowning on people who have dementia. By eating a healthy diet with meals at the same times every day, getting a full night of sleep, and lowering stress levels, you can manage other side effects that tend to make it worse, like fatigue and detachment from reality. The Alzheimer’s Association also recommends trying to schedule any appointments, short trips, or other errands during the earlier daylight hours to avoid any mix-ups or confusion. Light therapy and small doses of melatonin are also commonly recommended strategies with scientific backing.
If you’ve noticed you’ve been experiencing some ongoing confusion as the the sun begins to set every day, it may be time to mention it to your doctor. It could be nothing, or it could be a symptom of something entirely different, but you won’t know without talking to a healthcare provider. It’s worth it to speak up!