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AARP Expert

Managing Sundowners Syndrome Tip #10: Try Complementary, Alternative, and Western Medicine

When I was caring for my Dad, who lived with Alzheimer’s for more than a dozen years, I was willing to try almost anything that might help him be more comfortable, ease his anxieties and fears and make it easier to care for him. I explored a variety of complementary and alternative medicine approaches, some of which he had used in the past and some that were new. Because we did get some helpful results, I’m sharing with you my 10th and final tip in this series:


Try Complementary, Alternative, and Western Medicine

  • Use medications wisely. Ask the doctor about medications that might help with symptoms, such as anti-anxiety drugs and antidepressants. A mild anti-anxiety/anti-depressant was helpful for Dad, combined with the complementary and alternative approaches. Some people respond well to sedative medications but be sure to ask about and monitor possible side effects. For some people with dementia, sedating drugs can cause the opposite effect. This was the case for Dad, which we discovered after a very bad experience in the hospital. So, I had to be diligent about keeping him off those medications that he reacted badly to. A geriatric psychiatrist is an excellent resource regarding medications for those living with dementia.
  • Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) - Acupuncture has been used to treat anxiety and depression for many generations and is increasingly being accepted by Western medicine. With Dad’s help, Mom had tried acupuncture in the past, so I knew his attitude about it was accepting. I started getting acupuncture to help with back pain and with grief and it helped me so much I started taking Dad to acupuncture to help with grief, depression, and anxiety. I was pleased with how it relaxed him; he continued acupuncture for the last five years of his life. The sessions would start with a short massage to calm him (very important), and he generally slept through the treatment. His doctor started with magnets at the acupuncture points and then moved on to tiny needles. His TCM doctor also prescribed Chinese herbal medicine that helped his anxiety immensely. She suggested warm footbaths in the early afternoon before Sundowners started to kick in which was also very effective for him. Talk with your loved one’s doctor about this option and find an acupuncturist who understands dementia.
  • Massage therapy – Dad was used to getting massages, so I made sure that was continued throughout his Alzheimer’s journey. Massages were always calming for him, and his massage therapist came to the house once a week.
  • Essential oils and aromatherapy – see my tip #8 for more about this!
  • Herbs – Ask your loved ones’ physician and/or naturopathic doctor or a trained herbalist about herbs and supplements (such as lemon balm, valerian, chamomile, kava kava, holy basil, ashwagandha, or passionflower) that might help with Sundowners.
  • Supplements - there are many supplements that claim to be calming and stress-reducing, and/or to help with sleep challenges. They may include melatonin, magnesium, and B, C, D and E vitamins.Talk with your loved ones’ physician, pharmacist and/or nutritionist about supplements, and ensure there are no negative interactions with their prescription medications.


Always keep in mind that a brain with dementia may react differently to certain treatments, so be sure to discuss new approaches with your loved ones’ health practitioners on an ongoing basis. As you try new treatments, be diligent about tracking symptoms and behaviors, as well as negative side effects or interactions with medications. 


Reply to this post to let us know what helps your loved ones!


Take care,

Amy Goyer, AARP Family & Caregiving Expert

Author, Juggling Life, Work and Caregiving


your ad is right over the article I am reading.  That is rude and NOT sensitive to my needs.  I would not share or read more of your articles under any circumstances due to this.  Mrs. Leonard Pokrant


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Very pleased to see the sharing of complementary methods for dementia, brain dysfunction.  There are numerous alternative approaches besides just Western allopathic drugs. Dementia is teaching us to think and reach outside the drug box.  I kept my husband drug free and calm with use of massage, acupuncture, chiropractic, calming amino acids, minerals, herbs, neuro-supportive supplements, L-theanine, magnesium threonate, GABA, 5HTP, high protein snacks, nuts, and free of sugars and simple carbs.  AD is AKA Type 3 Diabetes.  Sugar is  #1 brain inflammatory.  Agitation, confusion is brain inflammation.  Dr Susan Zimmer, DC BS RN PAc FASA

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My Mom with dementia has responded positively when I give her a reiki session.  It is one of the reasons I became a master reiki practitioner.

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