Archive for December, 2014

Winter Blues Got You Down? Understanding Sundowners Syndrome

Posted on: December 1st, 2014 by CareNet Inc Admin

Understanding Sundowners Syndrome

As you may have already noticed,

some seasons are a little more difficult to weather than others. Along with the snow, winter tides in decreased daylight and shorter days. Decreased availability and exposure

to daylight can result in disrupted circadian rhythms and an off kilter internal body clock. This disrupted exposure to daylight can manifest in a variety of symptoms.

What is Sundowners Syndrome?

According to the Mayo Clinic, sundowners syndrome is “a group of symptoms that occur at a specific

time of the day that may affect people with dementia…. ‘Sundowning’ refers to a state of confusion at

the end of the day and into the night.” (Smith, 2014). These symptoms manifest in behaviors such as

confusion, anxiety, aggression, ignoring directions, pacing, or wandering.

What are specific triggers that can agitate these symptoms?

 End of the Day Activity

 Low Light – Especially in Alaska with decreasing daylight hours

 Winter – Sundowners Syndrome can often coincide with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD); a

seasonally specific type of depression induced by decreased exposure to natural light

Light – Not Just for Vision

 Light acts as a regulator – environmental light stimulates and regulates circadian rhythms

 Daylight stimulates production of serotonin; one of the body’s “feel good” chemicals

 Light is the main input to synchronize the biological clock to the solar 24-hour day

Tips for Managing Sundown Symptoms

 Establishing and maintaining a routine

 Limit and monitor caffeine and sugar intake, especially in afternoon and evening hours

 Activities that promote exposure to natural light

 Letting Light In – in the form of “phototherapy,” using a full-specturm light box to simulate the

effects of natural daylight

 Reduce background noise in the evenings – TVs and radios produce substantial noise throughout

the day, decrease the volume in the afternoon and evening hours


The patterns of natural daylight cannot be altered, however there are many minor adjustments we can

make to alleviate some of the more difficult symptoms that go along with Sundowners Syndrome.

Sticking to a routine, monitoring diet (especially in the afternoon and early evening), and utilizing

natural light exposure whenever possible can certainly reduce the prevalence of some of the symptoms

mentioned above.


Authored by Lorna Mills RN, BSN and Libby Jacques BA Psychology

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