Garden of Palms

How assisted living care helps seniors who experience sundowning.

by Garden of Palms

How assisted living care helps seniors who experience sundowning.

Sundowning is a symptom of memory loss and extends through advanced cognitive impairment conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Some caregivers and researchers may refer to sundowning as ‘late-day confusion’.  Seniors experiencing memory loss can experience confusion or mood changes at any time of the day - Sundowning refers to the phenomenon of accentuated confusion or mood swings coinciding with the late afternoon and early evening.

Keep In Mind What The Person Experiencing Memory Loss and Sundowning Is Feeling

Their symptoms may be less pronounced earlier in the day, then in the evening seniors become more restless, irritable, demanding, confused and disoriented. They may also yell at others, have hallucinations and mood swings, but these aren’t genuine or mean spirited behaviors - it’s just a symptom of memory loss. At home caregivers or family members may have trouble working through these events because they take the outbursts personally, feel unappreciated, or are just too personally attached to their loved one to recognize that the behavior is a product of their memory loss. What often gets forgotten in all of this activity is the discomfort of the person experiencing the sundowning effect. In assisted living care personal care professionals understand how to react to sundowning in way that makes the individual comfortable, and soothes their anxiousness.

How assisted living care helps seniors who experience sundowning.

The exact mechanism of how sundowning syndrome develops is not yet clear.

Several factors are believed to make the onset of sundowning more likely such as tiredness, hunger, thirst, depression, loneliness, pain and sleep disturbances. In an assisted living program, the potential for these issues is mitigated and greatly reduced. High quality meals prepared by professional chefs ensure that residents experience the joy of dining, private residences are areas of solace and rest, and a full calendar of activities and events as well as a community of residences provide a variety of situations for socialization, culture, and companionship.

Some assisted living programs have taken extensive efforts to implement certain configurations to their care schedule and the atmosphere of their community to help diminish the effects of sundowning or other unwanted after effects of memory loss.

One interesting technique is to change the lighting in the surroundings to match up with the circadian rhythm of the residents to regulate their sleep patterns. Lighting has a powerful effect on moods - this is true for almost all people, not just seniors or seniors with memory loss. Dim or sterile light can be depressing, and even if lighting levels are optimal for the time of day, a poor lighting layout in a room can make it uncomfortable which in turn affects the mood of the people in the room. Carefully controlling light levels, and tastefully configuring the lighting in every area of an assisted living community, while making strong use of natural light when possible, helps to establish an atmosphere that is like home.

Limiting day time inactivity and long sleeping periods during the day helps diminish sundowning.

Some more obvious points of interest for preventing time and light related mood changes are limiting day time inactivity in or day time sleeping. This is another point that tends to apply to people of all ages. Short naps during the day can be refreshing, but long naps can cause disorientation and disruptions to nighttime sleep patterns. These effects are accentuated further in a senior with memory loss, and this is manifested in the sundowning phenomenon. Engaging in regular day time activities is healthy for the mind, body, and attitude, and keeping these regular schedules helps to minimize the occurrence of sundowning and acute mood changes in general. You can see the monthly activities calendar for Garden of Palms in Los Angeles here.

Does Someone In Your Family Experience The Sundowning Effects of Memory Loss?

If you have a family member who gets uncomfortable in the early evening, experiences episodes of memory loss, and you’re concerned that their quality of life isn’t as high as it should be, we suggest contacting our community for more information about our assisted living program, or touring our location to see if we could be a long-term care solution for your family.


Cold, F., Health, E., Disease, H., Management, P., Conditions, S., & Problems, S. et al. (2017). Sundowning: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment. WebMD. Retrieved 16 October 2017, from

7 Tips for Reducing Sundowning. (2017). Healthline. Retrieved 16 October 2017, from