Trends in aging: Alzheimer's and Dementia

By Wendy McHaney
Jan. 24, 2014 at midnight
Updated Jan. 23, 2014 at 7:24 p.m.

This column highlights early to mid-stage dementia, which we call the emerald stage. There are three topics we will focus on three: sundowning, watching television and making the bathroom a comfortable place.

Sundowning is described as behavioral problems that sometimes affect people with dementia in the late afternoon and evenings. Beginning at dusk and continuing throughout the night, as many as 20 percent of dementia patients will at some point experience periods of increased confusion, disorientation, anxiety, agitation, restlessness, insecurity, suspicion, delusions and hallucinations.

Here are some recommendations for sundowning:

Plan activities of the day so that there is less to do in the late afternoon. Keep in mind that fatigue plays a major role in sundowning. Dementia is often characterized by increased confusion and irritability as the day goes on.

Reduce food and beverages with caffeine - or restrict them to the morning hours. Serve dinner early and offer a light snack before bedtime.

Use up extra energy through exercise, such as one or two brisk walks during the day.

Play quiet music in the late afternoon instead of loud television, which could cause confusion later in the day.

Help your love one feel secure and well protected. as nighttime often brings about feelings of insecurity and loneliness.

Do not argue, sundowning intensifies behavioral problems.

Reduce restlessness with some quiet activity, such as a favorite past time or a simple, quiet task like folding towels.

Some people with dementia lose the ability to tell the difference between what is real and what is on screen and can become distressed or show increased anxiety and confusion, especially with news programs.

The bathroom and personal care tasks can often be a cause of distress as well. Making some environmental changes can help decrease this:

Decluttering the space - less confusion and more room to move about

Adequate lighting and warm temperature

Setting hot water settings lower to prevent scalding, and making sure faucets are labeled "hot" and "cold."

Lay out grooming items in logical manner. such as toothbrush, razor, shampoo then soap. This makes grooming steps easier and less confusing.

Senior Helpers is presenting free workshops and support groups at Copperfield Village, 501 E. Larkspur, from 10:15 a.m.-11:15 every Thursday beginning in February.

Sources: SH Franchising Senior Gems training materials

Wendy McHaney is a certified senior adviser and the owner and director of operations of Senior Helpers. For more information about Senior Helpers, visit



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