Managing Sundowners Syndrome: #2 Routines and Structure

Caregiving Tips

Guidance on how to properly care for your loved ones as they navigate through the aging process

AARP Expert

Managing Sundowners Syndrome: #2 Routines and Structure

If you're caring for a loved one who is living with dementia, or another health condition, and they are experiencing Sundowners Syndrome, there are things can do to help manage it and minimize difficult behaviors and disruptions. Remember they are probably experiencing discomfort or a sense that they should be doing something or going somewhere. They may feel like there is something missing or it's time to go home. The key is to help them feel safe, secure, and "on top of things", and minimize triggers. That leads me to my 2nd tip:


Maintain routines and structure-activity 


  • Try to keep your loved ones active earlier in the day so they can better slow down as evening approaches. 
  • Minimize napping, especially if your loved ones aren't sleeping well at night or seem to have their days and nights mixed up. 
  • Try to avoid physically, emotionally, or mentally challenging, stressful tasks around dusk and at night.
  • Keep to a regular daily routine — there’s security in the familiar. It can help with that feeling like they should be doing something (but they can't figure out what it is). 
  • If your loved ones start to become anxious in the afternoon or evening, validate how they are feeling, try to figure out what their needs are (tired, hungry, need to go to the bathroom, thirsty, scared, confused, need to be productive or do their job...) and try to meet the need. Then you can try to distract them with calming and reassuring activities like a favorite TV show or music, food, nature or a hand massage. I gave Dad a relaxing foot bath every afternoon around 4pm for quite a long time and that routine went a long way in preventing his Sundowners Syndrome anxiety behaviors. Routines matter.

Take care,

Amy Goyer, AARP Family & Caregiving Expert

Author, Juggling Life, Work and Caregiving


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