As people get older, they begin to notice changes in many ways. Some people say that as they get older, they become crazier in terms of food, cleaning, sleeping, and so on. Why is this happening? In this article, we focus on the changes that take place in the sleep structure of the elderly, while keeping in mind the behaviors that occur when daylight is lost. This phenomenon is called sunset syndrome.
This syndrome can be defined as a state of confusion that occurs in the late afternoon and lasts until night. It can only affect anyone, especially as you age. However, it is more common in people with some form of dementia.
It is important to mention that while it can happen to anyone, it affects only 10–25% of patients (Lesta and Petocz, 2004).
According to González and Sardinia (2015), Dewing suggested that it is difficult to properly diagnose this disease. However, he confirmed that it involves a feeling of extreme restlessness and confusion in the late afternoon or early evening, leading to irritability. The patient also experiences changes in behavior.
How Sunset Syndrome Affects People With Dementia
According to Echáverr and Err (2007), sunset syndrome consists of one of the most common phenomena in geriatrics. As we have mentioned before, there is no specific definition for this syndrome. However, we can call it a period of harmful psychological behavior. It affects some patients with Alzheimer’s disease in such a way that they become very restless, aggressive and agitated in the last hours of the day.
Sunset syndrome exacerbates the confusion caused by Alzheimer’s disease, making it clearer to detect these patients. As a result, sunset syndrome highlights mental and cognitive problems as well as behavioral problems associated with dementia.
Signs and symptoms of sunset syndrome
As Gimenez and Macías said, the origin of this syndrome may be a dysfunction of the circadian rhythm caused by Alzheimer’s disease. Another reason may be a change in the perception of light associated with old age.
Some of the reasons leading to this syndrome may be social isolation as well as the darkness brought by the sunset. One reason may also be a multidrug, defined by the World Health Organization as the simultaneous use of three or more drugs.
Although there is no defined clinical picture for sunset syndrome, according to Gimenez and Macías (2015), these are some of the symptoms of this syndrome:
- Increased confusion
- Aggressive behavior
Other symptoms according to Echáverr and Err (2007) are:
- Moderate monologues, lively conversations, shouting, swearing, and sound attenuation
- Apathy and depression
- Exercise behavior and increased night activity, which in turn lead to insomnia
- Paranoia thinking and shouting
How to control sunset syndrome
In addition to medicines, it is important to keep in mind the following recommendations:
- Creating regular lifestyles.
- Eradication of recurrent infection. In other words, it is important to ensure that the syndrome is not associated with other diseases.
- Keeping the patient busy with simple activities.
- Skipping daydreams.
- Noise reduction.
- Ensuring the right kind of lighting.
- Avoiding caffeinated beverages.
- Avoiding medications that may cause this syndrome.
It is also good to keep in mind that multisensory therapy and the snoezelen method can help alleviate the symptoms of this syndrome.
In summary, there is not much information about sunset syndrome. It is important to understand the factors that lead to different changes in order to function properly. Only in this way can the quality of life of patients be significantly improved.