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Sundowning | Glossary Definition

Sundowning | Glossary Definition | Caregiver Bliss

As the sun begins to set and the day transitions into night, many people experience changes in their mood, behavior, and cognitive functioning. This phenomenon is known as "sundowning."

Sundowning is a term used to describe a condition in which individuals, particularly those with Alzheimer's disease or other forms of dementia, exhibit increased confusion, agitation, and other behavioral changes in the late afternoon and evening. In this article, we will explore what sundowning is, its possible causes, and some strategies to manage it.


What is Sundowning?

Sundowning, also known as "late-day confusion" or "sundown syndrome," is a condition that primarily affects older adults, especially those living with dementia. It is characterized by a noticeable worsening of cognitive and behavioral symptoms as the day progresses towards evening. Some common signs of sundowning include:

  • Confusion: Individuals may become disoriented, have difficulty recognizing familiar people or places, and struggle with memory.
  • Agitation: Restlessness, pacing, and anxiety often increase during the late afternoon and evening.
  • Mood swings: Sundowning can lead to sudden mood changes, ranging from irritability to sadness.
  • Hallucinations: Some individuals may experience visual or auditory hallucinations, further adding to their distress.
  • Increased physical symptoms: Agitation may manifest physically, with individuals becoming more resistant to care or displaying physical aggression.


Possible Causes of Sundowning

The exact causes of sundowning are not fully understood, but several factors are believed to contribute to this phenomenon:

  • Circadian Rhythm Disruption: The body's internal clock, known as the circadian rhythm, plays a crucial role in regulating sleep-wake cycles. Disruptions in this rhythm can lead to increased confusion and restlessness during the evening.
  • Fatigue: As the day progresses, individuals with dementia may become more tired, which can exacerbate cognitive and behavioral symptoms.
  • Sensory Overload: The evening hours can bring more sensory stimulation, such as increased noise and activity in care facilities, which can overwhelm individuals with dementia.
  • Hormonal Changes: Some experts suggest that hormonal changes in the late afternoon and evening may play a role in sundowning.
  • Medications: Certain medications may have side effects that worsen symptoms during the evening.


Managing Sundowning

While sundowning can be challenging for both individuals with dementia and their caregivers, there are strategies to help manage and reduce its impact:

  • Maintain a Routine: Consistency in daily routines can help stabilize circadian rhythms and reduce confusion. Try to schedule activities, meals, and bedtime at the same time each day.
  • Limit Stimulants: Avoid caffeine and sugary snacks in the afternoon and evening, as they can interfere with sleep and exacerbate symptoms.
  • Create a Calm Environment: Reduce sensory overload by dimming lights, minimizing noise, and creating a soothing atmosphere in the evening.
  • Encourage Physical Activity: Engage in gentle exercises and activities during the day to reduce restlessness and improve sleep.
  • Medication Review: Consult a healthcare professional to review and adjust medications if they may be contributing to sundowning.
  • Provide Comfort and Reassurance: Offer emotional support, reassurance, and comfort to the individual experiencing sundowning. Sometimes a gentle touch or soothing words can make a significant difference.



Sundowning is a challenging phenomenon that affects many individuals with dementia and their caregivers. While its exact causes are not fully understood, maintaining a routine, creating a calm environment, and providing emotional support can help manage its symptoms. By understanding sundowning and implementing appropriate strategies, caregivers can improve the quality of life for those living with dementia during the evening hours when sundowning is most likely to occur.

We hope this article has shed light on the perplexing issue of sundowning and provided valuable insights into its management. Have you or someone you know experienced sundowning? We'd love to hear your thoughts and personal experiences in the comments section below. Sharing your stories and strategies can contribute to a supportive community and offer helpful advice to others facing similar challenges.


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