Sundowning with Dad


Over the past few weeks, my father has been displaying signs of what I believe to be Sundowner's Syndrome. I'm not sure how I knew what it was, but when my mom took me aside one morning and told me what was happening, I immediately thought of Sundowners.

I searched the internet to find as much information as I could. I learned that some people display agitation and anger, so I am very grateful that my dad mostly just gets confused.

Thankfully, it typically just happens in the late afternoon or evening. For my dad, this is the case. While he is alert and cognizant during the early part of the day, late afternoons and evenings bring on a sharp change. My mother and father may be eating dinner or watching TV, when my dad will ask "Why are we here?", or "How did we get here?" He woke up (he sleeps for much of the day) late one afternoon and apparently didn't recognize my mother because he asked, "Are you working here?" On another occasion, my dad asked why there was a nurse in the living room—when there surely wasn't.

There isn't a lot we've done to try to combat Sundowners.

Research suggests that exposure to sunlight just before evening will help. But living in Central Ohio means we don't get a lot of sunshine—especially in the winter months. Another suggestion is to alter the routine or use distractions to snap a person out of Sundowners.

One night, my dad engaged me in several lengthy conversations that started with him asking me, "How do we get home from here?" We were sitting in his home. Perhaps distraction could have worked here.

I buried my heartbrokenness as I tried to help him through the difficult conversation. Later, as I closed the door to their apartment, I faced my own grief.

In light of this, I have watched my mother tear up as she tells me about his confusion. But I have also witnessed her become his cheerleader and protector. She lightly jokes and tells him not to forget that she is his wife. My mom is gentle as she helps him understand where he is when he becomes confused.

Each time another symptom of decline presents itself, I am shaken. I see the father I knew fading away.

Of course I knew conditions like this would happen—but knowing it and experiencing it are two very different things. For now, my dad's Sundowners Syndrome is something we all can handle. I can be thankful for that.

Ann Marie writes about the challenges and rewards of caring for her aging parents—both of whom have lived with Ann Marie and her husband for 11 years. She is also the owner of A.Mecera Communications, which she founded in 1985. Her shop develops and implements marketing solutions for non-profit and for-profit companies and organizations.

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Ann Marie, God bless you and your family. I hope you all can maintain such a positive attitude. bless everyone for sharing. Benita, please don't feel bad. It sounds like you are handling things well, but realize your frustration is not with your husband, but the situation/condition.

My mother was in a rehab center when she started Sundowning. At the time, I didn't know what it was. She would get agitated and confused with ordinary evening routine such as toileting, washing her face and brushing her hair and teeth. One night I saw her having trouble, and patiently explained to her that things could be much easier if she would use wipes. I rearranged things so she would have them handy and showed her how to use them. A few minutes later she was still having trouble, making a mess. I reminded her and showed her again. She continued with the paper. It was piling up everywhere and the entire bathroom was a disaster area.. I got so irritated. I snapped at her, "I showed you 3 times what to do! Why are not doing what I said? "
She paused, and then answered through tears, "I don't know, Chessie (my childhood nickname). I really don't know."

Now years after losing Mom, she's still teaching me. As Dad is going through Sundowning, I know from that exchange years ago that as hard as it is on me, it's that much worse for him. I must be as patient and calm as possible, and as several have said, keep loving and smiling until the door is shut behind me.
Sunlight doesn't work for my dad he sits in his room all day in the dark with the shades pulled wearing sunglasses. Does anyone else's parents do this?
My husband never forgets who he is or where he is, but his sundowning results in his starting to curse and call me names - I have to remind him that I am his "wifey" and ignore the name-calling. During this winter he has stopped exercising, going to the gym, taking walks and retreating to his bed. It has been snowing and icy, difficult to get the car out and deal with his reistance to anything I suggest. He has stopped going to our therapist, and the weather has prevented starting up with someone new. I am just waiting for spring. Hopefully, today will be sunny and milder and we'll get back to the gym. This will put him in better spirits.