What Causes Sundowners and Sleepless Nights for the person with Alzheimer’s or Dementia?

sleep-less-nightsSundowning is often used to describe peculiar behavior of someone with Alzheimers during the evening hours when the sun has set and nightfall begins.

Often, in middle to late stage Alzheimer’s they become restless and confused or disoriented during the evening hours. It can last from early evening until late into the night. When my Mom suffered from Sundowners it would often last till the wee hours of the morning, long after I had gone to bed. They are agitated and possibly delusional as they often roam the house or moan and sob for many hours. If they are able to unlock doors and go outside, some patient’s have wandered out side and lost their way. At times of sundowning, my Mom would not respond to soothing or assistance, and seldom remembered the miserable night the next morning when she awoke.

My mom would be totally inconsolable during nights of sundowners. She would sit on the edge of the bed and rock herself, sobbing and crying so loudly that I feared the neighbors would be awakened by her frightful sobs. If they were, they never complained. There was no soothing her, as I did try in the beginning. I often had the feeling that she peered right through me, as though I wasn’t in the room with her a all.  As the sundowning continued and worsened, I found that leaving her alone (with the light on/off at her preference) was the best I could do. It wouldn’t happen every night but was very disturbing when it did happen.

We added new bolts to our doors that were taller than she could reach for fear that she would attempt to walk out of the house during one of these times.  It is a very difficult time for the caregiver as well since there is nothing you can do to improve their situation. And with my Mom, if you tried to help her it only increased her agitation. The best I could do to help Mom was to be quiet, close the door to her room and allow her the time to grieve or do whatever she needed to do for her own mental distress. The great sorrow for me was that I could not ask her the next morning if she’d had a good night, or how I might help, because she had no recall of the previous night’s horror.


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