Sundowner’s Syndrome: How to Recognize It and What You Can Do

If one of your parents has Alzheimer’s, you’re probably familiar with the memory loss, disorientation and the struggle to express themselves properly. But have you noticed a sudden shift in behavior at night? Does mom strike out at those trying to help her? Does dad go on rants about people who are long in his past?

This phenomenon is known as “Sundowner’s Syndrome,” and it affects approximately 20 percent of those who have Alzheimer’s disease. It causes their moods to darken, their memory and confusion to worsen and leads to difficult behavior.

Some of the things that can trigger it include:

  • Vision Impairment: If your loved one is visually impaired, the darkening lights at the end of the day can make it harder for them to see.
  • Exhaustion: If the day has just worn out your loved one, Sundowner’s Syndrome can be triggered.
  • Seasonal: If Seasonal Affective Disorder is already an issue for your loved one, it can exacerbate Sundowner’s Syndrome.
  • Hormones: A hormonal imbalance or disruptions in their internal clock are thought to be some of the top contributes to Sundowner’s Syndrome.
  • Too much chaos: The end of the day sometimes brings a lot of activity, including staff change, visitors leaving, and other residents going back to their respective rooms. All this hustle and bustle can get to someone with Sundowner’s Syndrome.

If you think your parents may have this, try the following things to help mitigate it:

  • Light therapy, or “Happy lights”: These are devices that mimic the infrared light that comes in from the sun, bringing with it the elements responsible for lifting our moods. It also helps to make sure the rest of the room is well-lit at the end of the day, so they can see.
  • Establish a routine: This can cut back on the anxiety you loved one feels at the end of the day, leading to fewer Sundowner’s incidents. It can also allow you to monitor their energy level, so they don’t become tired and lash out.
  • Avoid certain foods: Caffeine or large amounts of sugar can trigger Sundowner’s Syndrome, especially if it’s eaten later in the day.
  • Medication: It might help to talk to their doctor about being on medication, especially if they suffer from SAD or other types of depression.


Remember, your loved one is not acting this way on purpose. By following some of the above tips, you can help soothe them if they are suffering from Sundowner’s Syndrome. The staff at Choice Health Management can help as well. We offer memory care services, to ensure your loved one is looked after.