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What Is Sundowners Syndrome?

The early stages of Alzheimers is often marked with a condition called “Sundowners syndrome.”

Sundowners syndrome is characterized by marked changes in mood and sleep patterns during the late afternoon and early evening—or, as the name implies, “around sundown.” People will feel very confused and easily upset or agitated. They may become more pessimistic or depressed; others become cranky and irritable. Before, researchers explained that this was due to missed day or night light cues, though current findings show that it is more likely caused by drug interactions or the natural frustration or the accumulated stress from impaired cognitive function. After a full day of constant mental processes—which normally wouldn’t bother someone else—the patients simply become overwhelmed. Their mood and their mind “shuts down” the same way an overstimulated toddler will throw a tantrum.

Experienced caregivers who have worked extensively with the elderly easily recognize and even prepare for sundowner’s syndrome. Doctors may prescribe anti-depressants, which can control the level of confusion. Other drugs, such as Aricept, also helps the patients recover some of their cognitive abilities and minimize the strain and sense of being overwhelmed. For those who suffer sleep disorders, doctors may prescribe sleeping aids. Aside from these treatments, caregivers should encourage the patients to take naps to help prevent sensory overload or fatigue. It is also better if the patients have access to a quiet, private corner where they can escape from noise or crowds. They should also have relaxing activities in the afternoon, to help them wind down before sleep.

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