Winter Blues Got You Down? 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
Authored by Lorna Mills RN, BSN and Libby Jacques BA PsychologyTags: dementia, sundowners