Sundowning is a term used to describe a time of day that seniors with Dementia may experience mood changes.  This is more prevalent with a time change.  With the shorter days, and the fading light, symptoms may prevail.  During the longer days in Spring and Summer managing symptoms of sundowning and working with a senior can be much easier.  You are able to do more activities that extend into the early evening.

A person who is sundowning may manifest anxiety, appear disoriented or confused.  As a result, they may act out and yell, or pace, and be restless.

As a family caregiver, you may feel tired and frustrated at the end of your day.  Your loved one will pick up on your frustration or agitation which can exacerbate their reactions to you.  Managing your emotions is key for the person with Dementia.  Step away for a moment to regroup and return with a smile.   Keep track of small things that might trigger reactions in your loved one. The family caregiver would do well to seek a companion for respite at that time of day to relieve them.


A caregiver must be experienced in being able to de-escalate the senior’s increasing demands and disorientation.  Being able to redirect with kindness is a must.  Utilize humour or try to organize a walk, drive or activity around this time of the day to take their mind off of their symptoms.


Try these tips to assist with managing Sundowning:

  1. Try to arrange your day with the same schedule each day.  Routine is key for the senior with dementia.  When the time changes, altering your routine slightly to match the fading light could be helpful.
  2. Journal behaviours and reactions, stress signals and agitation. Once you know their triggers, it will be easier to avoid situations that promote agitation and confusion.
  3. Take that time of the day to get out, see if distractions are helpful.  Although you may be tired, this is a good time to have a caregiver come in to assist you so you can get out.
  4. Eating and drinking habits are also very useful to manage.  Simply reduce caffeine and alcohol intake, this will help with falling asleep.  Eat your heavier meal at mid-day and have a lighter meal in the early evening.
  5. Stay calm and reassure them to stay calm.  Lots of reassurance can help to put them at ease.  Don’t use too many words, repeat a short mantra of ‘everything is ok – we are just fine’ and smile.
  6. Keep things calm in the evening and perform most of your busy activities during the day.  Play quiet music or engage in a puzzle.  Do not make the environment too busy or noisy as processing is difficult for a senior with Dementia.
  7. If seniors are confused once they have gone to bed, they may start to wander at night.  Utilize a motion detector light outside their door and use a baby monitor to listen for when they are up and around.

You are the reflection for your loved one with Dementia.  We have a lot of experience working with seniors with Dementia, and our advice is to smile no matter what you need to convey as a smile will put your senior at ease.  Plan well, give short instructions to follow, smile and carry on.


Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) not only affects seniors with Dementia.  Many of us experience a change in mood around the ebb and flow of time changes and the shorter days.  Many people experience great benefits from light therapy lamps.  If this is an option for your senior, do discuss this with your doctor.


Written by Johanna Booy – Care & Company Ltd.