Image depicting a dimly lit room with an elderly person exhibiting signs of agitation or confusion during the evening, representing sun downing behavior in individuals with dementia.

What is Sundowning? Why It Happens and How to Cope

If you’re caring for a loved one with dementia, you might have noticed that they get more irritable or confused starting late afternoon – when the sun, literally, starts to go down. You may have thought this was merely a coincidence, but it’s a common occurrence called sundowning. Sundowning can cause increased behavioral changes, just as the day is ending.

Assisted Living Locators of Long Island is sharing some information about sundowning, including why it happens, what may make it worse, and how to cope with it. As a Long Island Senior Placement service, we aim to educate families on senior health and wellness and local Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care Communities.

What is Sundowning?

Sundowning is not a disease in itself but rather a group of symptoms that typically affects individuals with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease during a specific time of day. Experts estimate that nearly 20% of all individuals with dementia will experience some type of sundowning.

Symptoms of sundowning include:

  • Increased irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Confusion
  • Suspicion
  • Bouts of anger or yelling
  • Wandering
  • Disorientation or hallucinations

Experts don’t know for sure what causes sundowning behaviors, but one possibility is that the brain-related changes that come with Alzheimer’s disease also affect sleep-wake cycles, resulting in irritability and confusion.

Several other factors may contribute to sundowning symptoms, as well, including:

  • Exhaustion brought on by the end of the day
  • Unmet needs such as hunger or thirst
  • Some type of pain or infection such as a urinary tract infection
  • Disruption in daily routine
  • Too much or too little lighting
  • Lack of quality sleep
  • Medications that may exacerbate confusion

Tips for Handling and Reducing Sundowning

Sundowning isn’t always preventable, but if you start to notice your family member acting differently during late afternoon or evening, there are some strategies you can take to cope with and mitigate their behavior.


The most important thing you can do when your loved one demonstrates sundowning behavior is to calmly and respectfully communicate with them. Reassuringly listen to their frustrations and ask them if there is anything they need that would make them feel more comfortable. If this isn’t possible, you can simply reassure them with a kind smile or soft touch.

Offer a Distraction

Sometimes, if you find that you cannot calm them down, or they cannot communicate effectively with you, try to create a distraction that will get their mind off their frustration. You can make cookies or a simple snack together, play their favorite song, ask them to draw a picture, or assign them a simple task like folding clothes. Distractions like these can be an effective way to forget their frustrations and focus their attention on something productive.

Maintain a Routine

Establishing a daily routine can be beneficial for those with dementia. Not only does it provide a sense of consistency and familiarity, but it can also reduce sundowning behaviors. By maintaining a daily routine—including consistent mealtimes, physical activity, and time outside—you can ensure your loved one is tired and peaceful as the day winds down.

Avoid Stimulants

While it can be a nice tradition to share a cup of coffee with your loved one after dinner, try to limit caffeine to morning hours. As the day goes on, it’s best to avoid stimulants like caffeine and sugar, as they can disrupt the ability to sleep. It’s also a good idea to avoid stimulants like TV watching or screen time later in the evening.

Create a Comfortable Sleep Environment

If your family member is not getting enough quality sleep at night, it could affect their energy levels during the day. Ensure that they have a sleep environment where they feel comfortable and safe by making sure it’s the right temperature, installing nightlights, and having a glass of water beside their bed.

Don’t Forget to Look After Yourself

Sundowning can be a common and frustrating experience for everyone involved, so it’s essential to look after yourself, too. Make sure that you’re eating a nutritious diet, getting enough exercise, and getting plenty of sleep. Doing these things will allow you to have more energy and patience throughout the day.

Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia can be a draining and demanding experience, and it’s okay to admit that. It’s important to remember that you’re never alone. There is a network of individuals going through the same things each day, and finding a support system can be beneficial in making you a stronger caregiver and person.

Consider a Long Island Dementia Care Community

Sometimes it can become too much to handle on your own. If your family member or loved one is beginning to experience increased sundowning and other problematic behaviors, it could be time to consider a Dementia Care Community. Assisted Living Locators of Long Island is a senior home advisor who will work closely with you and your family to find the right Assisted Living and Memory Care Community that offers the care your loved one deserves.

For more information on our Assisted Living and Memory/Dementia Care placement services, we invite you to contact us today. We proudly serve Eastern Queens and Long Island’s Nassau and Suffolk Counties.