Seasonal Sundowning: How Fluctuating Seasons Affect Seniors with Dementia

(3 Minute Read)

If you or a loved one is currently afflicted with dementia, you know the importance of establishing a firm and reliable routine. A schedule can keep Alzheimer’s sufferers on track and comfortable and even improve their quality of life. However, the changing seasons can have a huge impact on dementia patients, especially moving from fall to winter, when the days shorten. Though it may seem insignificant, this yearly occurrence can actually disrupt daily plans and lead to an uptick in dementia symptoms like increased irritability, confusion, and wandering. This phenomenon is known as sundowning and can truly affect the day-to-day life of someone suffering dementia. But, by understanding the causes, effects, and potential treatments of this experience, it’s possible to better manage the symptoms of sundowning during the winter months.

How Does Sundowning Work?

When the seasons begin to change, we receive less sunlight during daytime hours. For most people, this may feel like a normal occurrence. However, the increased amount of darkness can cause confusion and irritability for dementia patients. Generally, sundowning begins to show signs once the sun has set, thus upsetting the circadian rhythm of the individual. It’s important to note that sundowning is not a disease, but a collection of symptoms that occur during this change. Regardless, even the smallest changes in sunlight, such as a glare from an early setting sun, can cause flare-ups. The effects of sundowning may also be increased when accompanied with:

  • Poor sleep or fatigue
  • Too much caffeine
  • An infection such as in the sinuses or urinary tract
  • Poor lighting within the home
  • An increase in shadows around the interior or exterior of the home.

What Are the Symptoms?

The biggest and most obvious signs of sundowning are confusion and irritability. However, these may be present in anyone suffering from dementia. As the sun begins to set you may notice:

  • Pacing
  • Restlessness
  • Shadowing
  • Hallucinations
  • Wandering
  • Violent or Paranoid Behavior

Additionally, there exists a much larger risk for personal injury. The confusion associated with sundowning can cause dangerous situations for seniors, especially in the context of wandering. If a senior affected by sundowning wanders outside during the winter months, they may suffer from being improperly dressed resulting in hypothermia.

How Can We Treat Sundowning Symptoms?

Combatting the effects of changing seasons is really a process of trial and error. Just the same as setting up a routine, you may find that some approaches work wonders while others simply fall flat. To begin, make sure to switch on all or as many lights in the house as possible before the sun begins to set. Try adjusting daily plans to make sure that appointments and visits are kept to sunny daytime hours. You’ll also want to push off sleep until the evening hours, so as to cut back on nighttime restlessness. Preparing for sleep may mean cutting back on noises or stimulating activities. You might also be interested in trying soothing white noise machines, relaxing essential oils, or even mild sleep aids like melatonin. When making any changes like this to your health and routines, it’s important to consult a doctor. No one approach is the best, but a trusted physician can give you the information you need to manage these symptoms safely.

Living with dementia is painful and difficult, both for the afflicted and their loved ones and caretakers. Sundowning can certainly compound the frustration for anyone involved. However, by understanding the phenomenon and how to spot early signs, you can help provide a greater quality of life for anyone suffering from dementia.

Of course, another way to improve peace of mind is by securing financial security for the senior citizen in your life. Did you know you can sell all or a portion of your life insurance policy for more than the cash surrender value? This includes term life insurance policies as well, and is called a life settlement or viatical. Contact Life Settlement Advisors if you’d like to learn more.

Case Study: Pat and Betty purchased a joint life insurance policy many years ago for federal estate tax liability. Last year Pat passed away and Betty’s financial advisor suggested selling the policy as Betty no longer has a federal estate tax liability due to the recent tax changes. Betty sold her life insurance policy and instructed the trustee to distribute the proceeds to the beneficiaries of the trust.

Leo LaGrotte
Life Settlement Advisors
llagrotte@lsa-llc.com
317-863-5936

Download our free resource, Causes of a Dementia Diagnosis and the Early Warning Signs You Should Know, to educate yourself to spot dementia before it arrives.

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