Strategies to Combat Sundowning When the Clocks Change 

Oct 31, 2023 | Alzheimer’s

Daylight saving time (DST) and the seasonal time change can be a challenging transition. This is especially true for individuals with dementia. A main issue that is faced by caregivers when the clocks change is “sundowning.” There are several reasons for this, but here are a few:

Disrupted Routine

People with dementia often rely on a structured daily routine to provide a sense of security and predictability. The shift in time can disrupt their schedule, causing confusion and anxiety.

Cognitive Impairment 

Dementia leads to cognitive impairment, including memory loss and difficulty understanding time and date. The change in clocks can make it challenging for individuals with dementia to adjust and understand the new time.

Sleep Disturbance 

DST can affect sleep patterns, and individuals with dementia often experience sleep disturbances. Any disruption to their sleep can exacerbate symptoms and lead to increased confusion, agitation, and irritability.

Increased Sundowning

“Sundowning” refers to increased agitation and confusion that occurs in the late afternoon and evening, which is common in dementia patients. DST can make sundowning worse, as it can disrupt their internal body clock and cause them to become more disoriented as the day lengthens.  When the clocks change, sundowning can lead to difficult behaviors, including pacing, wandering & yelling.

Medication Schedule

Many individuals with dementia are on medication regimens that need to be administered at specific times. The time change can make it more challenging to adhere to these schedules, which is critical for managing their condition.

Caregiver Stress 

DST can also impact caregivers who provide support to individuals with dementia. The changes in the patient’s behavior and routine can lead to increased stress and challenges for caregivers, which in turn can affect the well-being of the person with dementia.

To minimize the impact of DST on individuals with dementia, caregivers and family members can take steps to ease the transition:

  • Gradual Adjustments: Caregivers can gradually adjust the person’s schedule by moving meal times, bedtime, and other routines by a few minutes each day leading up to the time change.
  • Maintain Consistency: Try to keep other aspects of the daily routine consistent, such as meals, activities, and medications, to provide a sense of stability.
  • Adequate Lighting: Ensure that the individual has exposure to natural light during the day, as this can help regulate their circadian rhythms.
  • Monitor for Behavioral Changes: Be vigilant for changes in behavior and mood during the transition, communicate changes to the care team and adjust care accordingly.
  • Offer Support and Comfort: Extra reassurance and comfort can go a long way in helping someone with dementia cope with the stress and confusion of DST.

It’s important to recognize that individuals with dementia may have different sensitivities to the time change, and their responses can vary. Caregivers and individuals on the care team should be attentive to the specific needs and responses of each person with dementia to provide the best possible care during this time.