Ask an Angel: December 14, 2017

Our Ask An Angel correspondent is Arlene Petersen, Life Care Navigation Specialist in the area of senior home care.

Q. My father has Alzheimer’s and doesn’t sleep very well at night as well as wanders now and then. Since the time change, it seems to have gotten worse. Is there anything we can do to help this situation?

A. This is a very common problem for many who struggle with Alzheimer’s. Sometimes this is referred to as Sundown Syndrome, or “sun downing.” In the simplest terms, this is when a loved one becomes agitated or overly anxious when the sun goes down. It is especially of concern for family members, because it can be a challenge to manage. Sometimes it impacts other’s sleep and can impact many factors in a relationship. While science does not have its finger on exactly why this happens, there are a few things you can do to help your father. Begin by looking at his diet. Is he eating or drinking anything with caffeine? If so, consider this as a possible culprit. Sugary foods and soda can also impact him. Next, keep activities to a minimum as the end of the day approaches. Try to keep a schedule where his morning is the busy time in his routine instead of the evening. Adjust his sleeping environment to reflect relaxation. Keep the lights dim (keeping safety in mind) and make his sleeping quarters peaceful. It is important to distract any anxious thoughts or concerns that may suddenly appear at the end of the day. Redirect those anxious thoughts with soothing music, calming television shows, or reading to him. Losing the extra hour of light can impact his behavior and it might be a good idea to keep your home environment well lit so “night time” doesn’t come too early. I know people have learned a lot about essential oils and there are certain oils that encourage relaxation. You can introduce this to his routine along with a gentle hand massage, a foot soak and relaxing music. These elements can bring a sense of calm that will help settle his anxiety at the end of the day. This is a process that involves learning and navigating the best options for him. If there still is a struggle, you might consider a professional caregiver who can be present during those challenging times of the day. Sometimes, a friendly face that provides experience with confidence can be a big help to families. As always, choose safety and dignity when caring for your loved one.

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