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Alzheimer's and Other Dementias: Coping With Sundowning

Topic Overview

People who have Alzheimer's disease or another dementia are sometimes easily confused. They may forget where they are, what day it is, and other common facts.

Sundowning is a term to describe increased confusion that occurs in late afternoon and at night. The person gets restless at those times of day. He or she may have trouble sleeping at night.

These tips may help you care for someone who shows signs of sundowning.

If the person is awake and upset

  • Don't argue. Offer reassurance. Then try to distract the person or focus his or her attention on something else.
  • Pay attention to your tone of voice. Be calm and supportive. People with Alzheimer's and other dementias are still aware of emotions. They may get upset if they sense anger or irritation in your voice.

At bedtime

  • If it seems to relax the person, give him or her a bath close to bedtime.
  • Offer warm milk or caffeine-free tea before bedtime.
  • Set a regular bedtime and time to get up.
  • Keep the person's bedroom dark and cool. Sometimes a nightlight can help the person feel less confused.
  • Keep noise levels comfortable for the person.

During the day

  • Make simple daily routines for bathing, dressing, eating, and other activities. Schedule these activities and tasks for times of day when the person is best able to handle them. He or she may feel less frustrated or confused with a clear, simple daily schedule.
  • Try to build exercise into the person's daily routine. A regular program of exercise may help make the person less restless.
  • Keep the person awake and active during the day. Discourage napping unless doing so causes more problems.
  • Do not let the person drink or eat caffeine after 3:00 p.m. This includes coffee, tea, cola drinks, and chocolate.


Current as of: May 28, 2019

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Thomas M. Bailey, MD, CCFP - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Myron F. Weiner, MD - Geriatric Psychiatry

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