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Alzheimers and Dementia Patients can Suffer Frightening Nights

Posted Jan 07 2011 11:39pm

Alzheimer’s and Dementia Patients can Suffer Frightening Evenings

If your family member has Alzheimer’s or Dementia, they may suffer through some nights that are more than fitful. Severe mood swings can occur during the evening hours that are often referred to as Sundowning or Sundowners. My own Mom would often awake from a sound sleep, crying and moaning as though she’d suffered a horrible trauma.

Bouts with Sundowners or Sundowning seem to spin the patient into a torrent of intense feelings of agony where they often groan and wail, longing for their mother or father or the actual “home” of their childhood.

My Mom would cry-out for her own mother and demand that they come and get her. She would beg to go home, as though I was holding her hostage. Mom’s weeping and wailing would be inconsolable no matter how much I tried to soothe her. She would be agitated and anxious and cry for long hours while I could only stand by and watch her emotional pain.

In the beginning, I was baffled and tried to help with soft, soothing words as the moaning began.  But as the severe moods occurred again and again, I took a more aggressive view of these fitful nights and made a more concentrated effort to slow their occurrence.

The only way I found to insure that Mom had more peaceful nights was to make certain her evening hours before bedtime were more harmonious. I always tried to coax Mom into some light, physical activity in late afternoon. Mom loved to sweep the porch or rake the yard. She’d always been an “outside” person, so this was a treat for her. It doesn’t have to be anything strenuous, but enough activity to make rest and sleep a welcome end to a long day.

I tried to make certain Mom never went to bed hungry or thirsty, offering a glass of water or juice shortly before bed time. On the other hand, she wouldn’t go to bed immediately after a meal, either. In fact, we tried to have dinner a little earlier than most, since a person with later stage Alzheimer’s can be confused by something as slight as indigestion.

When Mom lived with us, we had “lazy time” in early evening.  A couple hours before bedtime, everyone in the house settled down to the television, a movie, music or a book. Mom had a large recliner and she’d kick-back with the rest of us. Once the bouts with Sundowners began, I extended her “lazy time,” having her settle-down and rest several hours before bedtime.

When the Sundowners symptoms did occur, I never tried to argue or explain what was happening. In the beginning, I had tried to soothe her, but Mom always refused any offer of comfort. And most often, if I spoke or said anything during the fitful times, she didn’t appear to hear me or understand that I offered comfort.

So I made certain she was comfortable and offered her radio and head-set. Sometimes the music would circumvent the entire event and Mom would fall asleep, peacefully, before the Sundowning could occur. And on those nights we were happy that we all had a good and peaceful night’s sleep.

At this stage of Alzheimer’s, I think comfort and love is the most valuable thing a person can receive. Their mind is full of confusion and stress and worry.  My goal when my Mom was in this late stage of Alzheimer’s was to give her as many calm and peaceful and comfortable days and nights as possible.

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