What Is Sundowning and How Can Occupational Therapy Help?

Posted on: 28 September 2015

Many Alzheimer's patients and their caregivers at one time or another deal with a problem called "sundowning." Whether you're a patient or a caregiver, it's important to know what sundowning is and how an occupational therapist can help.

What is sundowning?

Sundowning is a phenomenon that occurs in many patients with Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia. Sundowning is the worsening of the condition after the sun goes down. Sundowning commonly occurs in the middle stages of Alzheimer's. When sundowning occurs, the patient may become more agitated or moody, or noticeably more confused and disoriented.

People going through sundowning may yell or pace, become more demanding, or may hear things and see things that aren't there. This condition may continue throughout the night and disrupt the patient's sleep cycle.

What causes sundowning?

The exact cause of sundowning is unknown, although some scientists theorize that parts of the brain that signal when the brain is sleeping and waking can break down. This can cause disruption of sleep cycles and may make it difficult for the Alzheimer's patient to tell what is a dream and what is reality.

How can occupational therapy help?

Occupational therapists work in long-term care settings and with individual patients to help the patients develop healthy sleeping routines. Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule and avoiding daytime napping can help create clear divisions between the states of sleeping and waking. Maintaining a healthy sleep schedule can also ensure that the patient is adequately rested, and that makes it easier for patients to cope with their condition at the end of the day. Here are a few things that occupational therapists can do for Alzheimer's patients to promote healthy sleep cycles:

  • Develop predictable sleep routines. Occupational therapists help Alzheimer's patients and their caregivers develop predictable sleep routines. Establishing routines like set bedtimes and predictable activities before bedtime can signal to the patient that it's time to wind down and go to sleep.
  • Prevent patients from sleeping during the day. Napping during the day can disrupt nighttime sleep and make sleeping more difficult. To stop daytime napping, occupational therapists help nursing facilities and caregivers construct engaging activities that will keep the Alzheimer's patient awake and alert throughout the day. 
  • Create an environment conducive to sleeping. When it's time for bed, occupational therapists help caregivers and nursing facilities create an environment that promotes restful sleep. Turning down the lights and lowering noise levels in the environment is important to ensure that the patient is able to sleep when it's time.
  • Ensure comfort while sleeping. Occupational therapists help the patients find comfort at bedtime. Special fitting pajamas, weighted blankets, and white noise makers can all help patients get rest when it's time to sleep.

For more information about how proper sleep routines can help reduce symptoms of sundowning, and how occupational therapy can help Alzheimer's patients get necessary rest, speak with an occupational therapist like Bayonet Point Health & Rehabilitation Center who has experience with Alzheimer's patients.


Welcome to Sara's Site

Hi there! My name is Sara Jerba. I'm no doctor, but I'm very familiar with them due to experience. You could say I was a sickly child. Between various allergies and a few other conditions, I got to be very good friends with my doctors and nurses. Although I hate staying overnight in the hospital, I do feel quite at home there. Now, don't feel sorry for me. Most of my conditions have eased or even abated entirely as I've grown up. And none of them were ever life-threatening--just inconvenient. It's actually been very positive in the long run; it's brought a lot of wonderful people and important knowledge into my life that I wouldn't have had otherwise.

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