Living with dementia: What is sundowning and how can you help your loved one?

Posted on: 15/10/2022

Sometimes, during the late afternoon or early evening, you may notice your loved one’s behaviour changes. This is commonly called “sundowning”.

It is not something triggered by the setting of the sun, it simply refers to the time of day in which your loved one may experience these changes in behaviour.

Sundowning behaviours

Some of the behaviours your loved one may experience include:

  • Becoming agitated
  • Experiencing anxiety
  • Appearing to be in discomfort
  • Appearing suspicious
  • Experiencing hallucinations
  • Becoming confused
  • Showing signs of a bad mood, anger, temper
  • Ignoring you
  • Unable to follow directions
  • Becoming demanding

You may notice that your loved one displays many of these behaviours as a result of their dementia, but they become worse in the late afternoon/early evening.

Sometimes, they can also continue into the night, disrupting your loved one’s sleep cycle.

Why does sundowning happen?

Whilst the actual cause of sundowning is not well understood, there are some factors that are through to increase the risk of a person experiencing it.

There are some things you can look out for as possible causes. For example, if your loved one:

  • Experiences anxiety and/or depression
  • Has had a stressful day and is overstimulated
  • Hasn’t had enough exposure to natural light, meaning they don’t feel tired
  • Has an unmet need, such as needing the toilet, or needing food or a drink
  • Experiences chronic pain or is uncomfortable
  • Takes medication with side effects that change their behaviour

Ultimately, it’s thought that the changes in behaviour related to sundowning are your loved one trying to communicate a specific want or need.

How can I help my loved one deal with sundowning?

To start with, if you can pinpoint what seems to trigger the changes, you should be able to meet their needs and help them to settle of an evening. You can also try to distract them, such as by reminiscing or playing a game.

In addition, here are some other things you might like to consider to help your loved one:

  • Set a routine. With a structured daily routine, you can make sure they are eating and drinking properly, as well as getting a good amount of physical and mental stimulation.
  • Get outside during the day. Give them as much exposure to daylight as possible to try and set their internal clock and help them naturally feel tired of an evening.
  • Promote a calming atmosphere in the evening. Try to limit noise, distractions, stimulation and dim the lights to create a calming environment at night.
  • Help them get a good night’s sleep. As sundowning can sometimes be linked to sleep problems, you might also like to have a read of our article with advice on how to get a better night’s sleep when living with dementia – click here to read it. 
  • Speak to their GP. If you are concerned that the changes in behaviour are being caused by a condition or pain, it’s always best to speak to their GP for help managing what they are experiencing.

Seeing your loved one experience these changes in behaviour can be stressful, but we hope this advice will help you to help them.

If you are also concerned about your loved one walking about during the late evening and in the night, get in touch with us and we can provide you with technology enabled support to help you keep your loved one safe. Either drop an email to us at or call us on 03333 204 999.