Managing Sundowners Syndrome: #6: Adjust Lighting

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

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AARP Expert

Managing Sundowners Syndrome: #6: Adjust Lighting

We often see the challenging behaviors of Sundowners Syndrome in the late afternoon or early evening as the light outside begins to change. Light has long been a signal to humans that the time of day is changing. It seems to be hardwired into us to adapt our activities as the light changes; for example, when it gets dark outside it’s time to go to bed, or go home from work, or come inside.

 

So, it’s not surprising that lighting changes could be a trigger for sundowning. The problem is that someone living with dementia or other health conditions may not be able to adapt or interpret changes in light.

 

Some experts also theorize that our hormones and body clocks are regulated by exposure to light, and that when light is limited it throws us off – this may be why many people struggle in the winter when days are shorter, and they experience less sunlight.

 

The lack of light can also cause depression, or low levels of the natural Vitamin D that we get from sunlight.

 

Someone living with dementia who also has visual impairment may also be confused by shadows that can accompany decreased lighting.

 

For all of these potential reasons, my tip #6 is:

 

Adjust Lighting

 

  • If adequate exposure to direct sunlight isn’t possible, try therapeutic lights or a lightbox at strategic times of day and use bright lights in the room.
  • As it gets dark outside, increase indoor lighting.
  • You might even increase outdoor lighting. For my Dad (who had Alzheimer’s), during the shorter winter days, I would often turn on the bright back porch lights outside our dining-room window, which helped prevent Dad from thinking it was already bedtime as it got dark outside.
  • Try different types of light bulbs that have different lighting hues. I like a warmer, more soothing "relaxed" light hue, but some may respond to a brighter light. At the same time be aware that too much blue light exposure close to bedtime may impair sleep later. 
  • Try to avoid a darker room until you really want your loved ones to start calming down and preparing for sleep.

Tell us how you deal with lighting changes of Sundowners Syndrome in the comments below!

 

Take care,

Amy Goyer, AARP Family & Caregiving Expert

Author, Juggling Life, Work and Caregiving

 

1 ACCEPTED SOLUTION
Contributor

We have two sets of lights in the main living area and in the master bathroom. One set of lights is cool blue lights. They are used before 9 pm to provide energy. After 9 pm we switch to the yellow lights. This really helps with my SAD (seasonal disorder)

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Contributor

We have two sets of lights in the main living area and in the master bathroom. One set of lights is cool blue lights. They are used before 9 pm to provide energy. After 9 pm we switch to the yellow lights. This really helps with my SAD (seasonal disorder)

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AARP Expert

@dsmartTX That sounds like a great system! Are these lamps or string lights or lights in the ceiling? 

Contributor

The main living area has four can lights in the ceiling which are full spectrum LED lights in the blue Kelvin range. The four lights in the ceiling fan are in the yellow range.  There is a separate free standing lamp in the corner which is blue for use on days when it is very rainy or oddly enough when the light outside is to bright on the southern exposure and we have to shut the curtains and turn on the lights.The master bath which is very large has three separate built in lights. One set of lights with 4 bulbs is blue, one set of lights with two bulbs nearest the shower is blue, and one light which has only one bulb is yellow. By picking which light or lights you turn on you can pick the light color and light intensity.

Periodic Contributor

I despise Daylight Savings Time and the 9:00 sunsets. Have to have black-out drapes just to lay down and headphones to drown out the noise. 

AARP Expert

@cynthiaellen  Yes! Daylight savings time can really throw things off! Arizona doesn't participate so I was kind of lucky because we never went through that with my Dad. Nevertheless, the days still get shorter or longer and that can throw things off....

Gold Conversationalist

You said it!  Every daylight savings time change I get jet lag and it takes a week to recover.