Tomorrow is always fresh and new: compassionate Alzheimer’s caregiving
When caring for a person with Sundowner's Syndrome, there are a few things you must keep in mind to ease the experience for both you and the person living with Alzheimer's or another type of dementia—not to mention Sundowner's.
First off, if you're living it, you know that Sundowning comes with all varieties of mood swings. From agitation and snappiness to physical aggression and outright fits. Hallways may be stomped, countertops angrily cleared to the floor and your own ears blasted with things that seem to make all too much grating sense in their nonsensical way, potentially slicing away at your heart.
Clearly both caregiver and patient are going to have a difficult time during these hours, most often between 3 and 8pm when, yep, the sun's going down. Though it's not clear if it's part of an individual's biological rhythms, the poor lighting of dusk causing confusion or pent up anxiety from the day, Sundowner's is very real and can be very distressing. Crying, hoarding and pacing are just a few common symptoms of this heartwrenching symptom.
One of my favorite lines in movie history is from the Anne of Green Gables saga, where Anne is counseled after yet another misstep that "tomorrow is always fresh and new." My mom even put it on a cross stitch for me. It's right along the lines of "This too shall pass" and "Tomorrow's another day," but with the added delight of Anne's visceral relief to relook at her world through this new lens.
Sundowning is a difficult condition to manage as a caregiver, all the more so when the person we care for is a family member. You've likely been told to try and "stay in the moment" so many times you'd like to show the next encouraging well wisher just what the moment has in store for them, but don't lose your cool—on another living being at least. Once the person you care for has gone to sleep, feel free to punch pillows, silent scream or, if able to get away, pound it out with a good run. You're doing your best.
Just remember, "Tomorrow's always fresh and new," and your loved one's sunrises are what you live for. Enjoy times of morning lucidity, creativity, gentleness and know in your heart that what's bound to come later doesn't detract from the good moments, days or years that preceded.
Here are some tips on making 3-8pm more manageable when caring for someone with Sundowner's Syndrome: