End-of-day anxiety and the search for comfort is a lifelong experience that can increase with aging, particularly for those with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.
Sundowner’s Syndrome is a facet of the diseases that magnifies a feeling of being at “loose ends” when the day is wrapped up and there is anticipation for tomorrow, says Barbara Dzikowski, director of Alzheimer’s & Dementia Services of Northern Indiana Inc.
“Sundowner’s can include increased agitation, anxiety, some kind of confusion and sudden mood shifts,” Dzikowski says. “Not everyone with dementia has Sundowner’s, but it’s so prevalent that it is very much identified with dementia.”
Individuals with dementia struggle with obtaining that sense of comfort found in family and a home environment as their realities have changed due to the disease. “You systematically regress backward into your life, erasing layers of memory in reverse with short-term memory being the first area to be affected. That’s why we see, at some point, people don’t recognize their husband or children, as they are back into time ten, fifteen years, or more,” Dzikowski says.
She believes Sundowner’s is the most difficult behavioral issue for caregivers who strive to provide a calming atmosphere for their loved ones who no longer recognize their homes. “You have to go with the person’s reality, not your own. We had a gentleman end up in Canada looking for his old hometown. Wandering is a very bad byproduct of Sundowning,” she says.
As director of the 30-year-old organization since 1998, Dzikowski has seen both the distressing and inspiring sides of the diseases. She feels spirituality is heightened and a different side of the individual comes to the surface and emerges. Over the years, she has heard stories of individuals talking to deceased loved ones or angels and having beautiful visions.
“As the human brain dims, the soul rises to the surface. The soul isn’t impaired, the mind is. Caregivers can have an amazing connection in an emotional way: soul to soul,” she says.
Dzikowski spotlights one story where a woman saw her own birth through her mother’s eyes. “The daughter had a conversation with her mother about how she had the most beautiful girl in the world and how she was the most wonderful gift in her life. The daughter saw how much her mom loved her and was with her on the day she was born. It’s stunning,” Dzikowski says.
As with the diseases, caregivers and family members have to find ways to manage Sundowner’s as there is no cure or exact known cause. Dzikowski’s organization offers support groups, education and one-on-one counseling. “Because of the ongoing stress, we are seeing the effects on caregivers’ lives. We try to help them understand the disease process. There is hope and we can help them look at other ways to deal with the issue and manage it,” she says. “Tap into our network of knowledge and know you are not alone.”
For more information on the organization and area support groups, visit alz-nic.org.