Understanding Sundown Syndrome and How You Can Help

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Generalized anxiety in senior adults is a common problem, but a particularly frustrating form of anxiety in some older persons is evening anxiety, also called sundown syndrome. Not only does sundown syndrome negatively affect the quality of life for the elderly adult, but it can also take a toll on family members providing care for their loved ones.

If you have an older family member who is suffering from sundown syndrome, then it is helpful to know more about the problem and what you can do to assist your loved one. Below is more information about sundown syndrome.

What Is Sundown Syndrome?

Sundown syndrome is not a separate clinical disorder but is an “umbrella” term used to describe anxieties that affect elderly adults during the late afternoon or evening hours. Older adults with sundown syndrome demonstrate several problem behaviors, including:

  • Aggression
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Fearfulness
  • Hallucinations
  • Restlessness

Those affected by sundown syndrome may experience all or some of these symptom in varying degrees. For example, some elderly adults may become highly disruptive and attempt to leave the home, while others may quietly suffer from their affliction.

Sundown syndrome often interferes with normal sleep patterns and can continue for hours throughout the night. As a result, caregivers are often left exhausted and frustrated as they seek to help their loved ones cope.

What Causes Sundown Syndrome?

The causes of sundown syndrome are often unknown or difficult to identify. However, there are some common factors that exist in elderly adults affected by this condition. Some of these factors include the following.


Dementia is strongly associated with sundown syndrome and is at the root of many of the problems faced by sufferers. The confusion and forgetfulness associated with dementia set the stage for heightened anxiety and related problems in the evening hours.

In addition, research shows that some adults with dementia experience changes in the function of the brain. These changes appear to be directly correlated with an increase in the symptoms of sundown syndrome.

Sleep Cycle Changes

A disruption in healthy sleeping patterns is another possible associated factor with sundown syndrome. As individuals age, sleep cycles tend to change and can prevent older adults from getting the quality and amount of sleep necessary for good health. This may alter sleeping patterns and leave elderly adults restless and wakeful during the night.

Physical Illness

Another factor that can contribute to sundown syndrome is physical illness. If an older adult is unable to rest due to pain or discomfort, then they experience poor sleep or are unable to sleep at all. In addition, such problems could cause affected persons to avoid going to bed and contribute to restless behavior.

What Can Be Done to Alleviate Sundown Syndrome?

Fortunately, there are several effective strategies that can help alleviate the symptoms of sundown syndrome. While not all may be appropriate or useful with your loved one, select those that seem to help the most. Below are a few that you might wish to utilize:

Discourage Daytime Sleeping

Since altered sleep patterns are associated with sundown syndrome, it can be helpful to limit sleeping to the night-time hours. Too much sleep during the day can prevent elderly individuals from falling asleep and entering the most restful stages during the night. Try to encourage your loved one to stay awake as much as possible during daylight hours and avoid excessive napping and sleeping late.

Keep Afternoon and Evening Activities Calm

It is also helpful for some older individuals with sundown syndrome to lower their activity level in the afternoon and evening. That means avoiding strenuous physical or mental effort as well as any other activity that might raise emotional and physical levels.

Ensure the Comfort of Affected Individuals

For some persons, increasing the level of emotional and physical comfort is enough to prevent sundown syndrome from striking. That means addressing basic needs, such as hunger and pain, but also providing support as the evening advances.

If you have questions about sundown syndrome or need assistance with caring for an elderly loved one, be sure to contact Queen City Home Care for help. The professionals at Queen City Home Care are there for you and your family.