Noise, light, and sundowning

Many elders can be hard of hearing due to the normal process of aging, but persons living with dementia can experience sound in different ways due to their dementia. This can become more pronounced as the dementia progresses. Persons living with dementia, because of their inability to process sounds normally can have a difficult time understanding you. Sudden noises can also startle your loved one and cause a change in his/her mood, increasing agitation. TV volume, loud music, and even a siren or a doorbell’s ringing can cause a reaction. Stay calm and reassuring when this happens. Find more tips for communicating with persons living with dementia here.

The Alzheimer’s Association states that as many as 20% of persons with Alzheimer’s will experience increased confusion, anxiety, and agitation beginning late in the day. This phenomenon is called sundowning.1

Sundowning is partly a function of aging, which can change the body’s production of melatonin, a hormone that appears to regulate our circadian rhythms—in turn affecting sleep patterns and wakeful periods. Coupled with advanced dementia, the result can lead to confusion and aggressive behavior and can be difficult for caregivers to manage.

Light can have a beneficial effect on persons with dementia. Adding sunlight or better lighting to their daily regimen can help regulate their circadian rhythms and can reduce or even eliminate sundowning, improve mood, and help them sleep.2 Elders often have diminished eyesight and may have difficulty making out patterns in poor light. For persons living with dementia, this can result in threatening shapes and confusion—which better lighting can clear up. It can also have a positive effect on nocturnal wandering, agitation, and even abusive behavior.