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What is Sundowners Syndrome?

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Authored by Ceetee Sheckels in Diseases
Published on 01-03-2010

Sundowners Syndrome is a condition which continues to mystify patients, their caregivers, and even many in the medical community. It primarily strikes those who are affected by Alzheimer’s Syndrome and other related forms of dementia, but is not entirely limited to this group. As both the symptoms and the occurrence of Sundowners Syndrome are quite similar to Seasonal Affective Disorder, the general consensus is that these two conditions may be related.

The person who has Sundowners Syndrome is generally at his peak during daylight hours, and declines when the light is no longer present. After the day’s sun goes down and the dark hours of nighttime are present, his usual state may begin to decline. Symptoms of Sundowners Syndrome include confusion, fearfulness, anxiety, and depression. In the dementia patient who experiences these symptoms in his everyday life, they are worsened during the nighttime hours.

Seasonal Affective Disorder causes these problems in individuals who are otherwise healthy and stable. People who suffer from this condition are below their normal state during the winter months. This is attributed to a physiological response to the lack of natural sunlight. While the extent and severity of these symptoms vary from person to person, living with Seasonal Affective Disorder can range from basic “blues” to being below a normal functioning level. Many who suffer from this condition are receptive to natural light. It can reduce the symptoms, even if it does not eliminate them entirely.

If these two conditions are related, as they appear to be, people who suffer from Sundowners Syndrome may be helped in the same manner as those who have Seasonal Affective Disorder. At its best, the person can relocate to a region where natural sunlight is abundant. Logically, this is not possible for everyone. In these cases, his spirits may be kept up and his functioning level be maintained by as much exposure to light as possible. During the daylight hours, he should be outdoors, or at least have his curtains open to allow the natural sunlight into his home. If his health permits, a short walk outdoors is recommended, even if this requires supervision.

While exposure to natural sunlight in the daytime may not completely eliminate the symptoms of either Sundowners Syndrome or Seasonal Affective Disorder, it can be very helpful to the person who is dealing with either condition. Although there can be exceptions, the more natural sunlight a person is exposed to during the daytime, the less severe the impact will be of the nighttime hours’ darkness.

The person who has both Sundowners Syndrome and any form of dementia should be safeguarded, especially during the nighttime hours. As many elderly persons who experience dementia are prone to wandering and becoming lost, supervision is necessary to prevent unnecessary accidents or other harm. While exposure to natural sunlight may reduce the symptoms for many patients, it cannot be counted on to eliminate the problems altogether. Although there is not yet a cure for Sundowners Syndrome, providing this assistance to the person who has it can be very helpful.

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