← Back to Blog

Dementia and Daylight Saving Time: How to Make a Healthy Transition

A woman leans against a wood beach boardwalk and soaks up the sun

For seniors with Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia, the time change each spring and fall may increase symptoms of sundowning and sunrising. The subtle but significant time shift and amount of daylight hours can create disruptions in your loved one’s daily routine, causing confusion and bringing added emotional, behavioral and cognitive difficulties.

What is Sundowning and Sunrising?

The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that as many as 20% of Alzheimer’s patients experience symptoms of Sundowning and Sunrising Syndrome. They may be associated with disruption in the sleep and wake cycles, which the Daylight Savings Time change will exacerbate. Even without the impact of the time change, people with dementia already experience disturbances in their circadian rhythms, meaning they have problems synchronizing with the light. Every person with dementia has a routine and even the smallest adjustments can be very disorienting for them.

Sundowning is a set of neuropsychiatric symptoms that often occur in seniors with dementia. The exact causes aren’t well known, but it’s possible that a range of different triggers can make it more likely:

  • Tiredness, hunger, pain, or other unmet physical needs
  • Not enough exposure to sunlight during the day
  • Overstimulation during the day, such as from a noisy or busy environment
  • Disturbance to the person’s “body clock” caused by damage to the brain
  • Disturbed levels of hormones that vary over the course of the day
  • Hearing or sight loss
  • Mood disorders like anxiety or depression
  • Side effects of prescribed drugs

Symptoms can include:

  • Mood swings
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Suspicion
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Sadness
  • Anxiety
  • Anger
  • Aggression
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Pacing
  • Rocking
  • Yelling
  • Crying

If your loved one is expressing these behaviors, here are some things you can do to help.

How to Help

Track their behavior: If you think your family member is exhibiting symptoms of Sundowner’s or Sunriser’s Syndrome, start keeping a journal. Write down their symptoms, time of day, what helps ease them and what seems to make them worse. People with dementia can express symptoms in different ways.

Be regular: Your loved one might have difficulty with unfamiliar places and things, which could cause feelings of stress, confusion and anger. To help, set and stick to a schedule for waking up, eating meals and going to sleep.

Start early: Try to schedule their appointments, outings, visits, bath time and regular exercise in the earlier part of the day, when they’re likely to feel their best.

Create calm vibes: As evening approaches, create a calming environment. Close curtains and blinds and turn on lights. Set the thermostat at a comfortable temperature. Put on relaxing music, read, play cards, or go for a wind-down walk. Tell other family members or visitors not to make too much noise and turn down phones, stereos, or TVs. Your loved one may also enjoy looking at photos or snuggling with a cat or other pet.

Stay in the light: To help set your loved one’s internal clock, make sure they get a lot of sunlight in the morning. Take a walk together outside or buy a light box and put it near their bed or chair. Their body may recognize that it’s morning and react accordingly during the day.

Keep active: Too much daytime napping and inactivity can make it harder for your loved one to fall asleep at bedtime. To promote a good night’s sleep, help them stay active during the day.

Eat light dinners: Large meals at night can increase your loved one’s agitation and may keep them awake. Instead, encourage them to have a larger meal at lunch and a lighter one in the evening. That will help them feel more comfortable and rest easier at night.

Curb caffeine: Having a spike in energy later in the day can be a sign of Sundowner’s Syndrome. If your family member experiences this, consider restricting their caffeine intake to the morning hours.

Create a safe place: Make sure your loved one has a safe and comforting place to rest and sleep. Adding night lights to their bedroom, the bathroom and hallway can help minimize confusion if they get up in the middle of the night.

Check their medication schedule: Taking some prescribed medications in the late afternoon or evening may trigger sundowning. If you’re noticing your loved one is experiencing sundowning regularly, check with their doctor about changing their medication schedule.

Take care of yourself: Dealing with sundowning can be exhausting for both your family member and you. As a caregiver, it’s important to take care of yourself. When you’re rested and healthy, you’ll then be able to give your loved one the patience and support they need. Try to eat a well-balanced diet, exercise regularly and get enough sleep at night. You can also ask other family members or friends to spend time with your family member, so you can take a break.

More Than Memory Care. Personal Care.

At Freedom Village of Bradenton our memory care neighborhood features person-centered care that’s customized to your loved one’s unique needs. An important part of our specialized care is an innovative program called Heartfelt CONNECTIONS — A Memory Care Program™. If you want to see if our memory care community, or even short-term respite care, is right for your loved one use or Community Assistant chat feature or contact us here.