Whilst we usually experience longer and warmer days during the summer months, this summer temperatures have reached record breaking highs. The heat poses a risk to everyone’s health, especially those living with dementia. You’re at greater risk of dehydration, tiredness and behavioural changes – including ‘sundowning’. 

New research by Lottie has revealed the heatwave is exacerbating behavioural changes in those living with dementia – especially in the late afternoon. Over the last 7 days, there has been a surge of online searches from carers, looking for support on ‘sundowning’ and ‘dementia’:

  • 100% increase in online searches on Google for ‘sundowning behaviour’
  • 50% increase in online searches on Google for ‘sundowning dementia patients’
  • 22% increase in online searches on Google for ‘sundown dementia symptoms

“Sundowning is a state of confusion many of those living with dementia experience in the late afternoon or early evening and can cause changes to their behaviour and mood”, shares Lottie’s Co-Founder and Care Expert Will Donnelly. 

It isn’t surprising that we’ve seen a rise in online searches during the heatwave for sundowning support. One in five people living with dementia experience sundowning symptoms and the heat can heighten behavioural sundowning episodes.

In the peak of the summer, the longer days of sunlight can leave those experiencing sundowning symptoms confused for longer as their ‘internal body clock’ adjusts to a new routine. Combined with exhaustion from the heat, sundowning episodes can be exacerbated.

Whilst the main cause of sundowning is unclear, there are lots of factors that can trigger a sundowning episode, including – unmet needs (tiredness, hunger, and thirst) lack of exposure to sunlight during the day and disturbance to a daily routine.

Sometimes what seems like ‘sundowning’ could be the person trying to communicate a need.

As the temperatures in the UK continue to rise it’s really important to recognise the signs and symptoms of sundowning to keep those living with dementia safe and well.” concludes Will Donnelly.

Here’s how to take care of a loved one experiencing sundowning in the summer months, according to Lottie’s Will Donnelly:

  • Help your loved one to communicate their needs

Often sundowning can be triggered by feeling of discomfort or an unmet need, such as hunger, thirst, or tiredness. Good communication can make it easier to meet your loved ones needs and reduce sundowning symptoms.

Work with your loved one to find a communication style that help you to both understand each other – there are lots of communication resources available online to support you with this.

  • Make sure drinks are easy-to-reach

Dehydration is a common challenge for older people, especially for those with dementia, make sure your loved one stays hydrated and has regular cold drinks within easy reach. For instance, place a jug of fresh, cold water in every room and in their usual places, including next to their favourite chair.

You may find it helpful to place any refreshments in brightly coloured glasses, so it captures their attention when they’re moving around their home. 

  • Help your loved one to stay cool and well rested

The heat can increase exhaustion and fatigue – make sure your loved one is getting plenty of rest during the summer months. 

If you notice your elderly loved one is hot, move them to a cool place and gently spray them with cool water. A fan will also cool them down and ensure they stay well. Make sure you stay with your elderly relative until they’re better.

Try to avoid any strenuous activities later in the day and any naps in the evening – this can disrupt your loved ones sleeping pattern making it harder for them to fall asleep at night.

  • Create a clam evening routine

A daily structure can help to decrease any behaviours such as aggression, restlessness or confusion which many people living with dementia experience in unfamiliar situations.

A relaxing evening routine, filled with activities your loved one enjoys, such as watching a favourite programme, listening to music, stroking a pet can help to keep them calm.

  • Ensure safe sunlight time

Too much or not enough exposure to sunlight can trigger sundowning symptoms. Help your loved one to enjoy some sunlight during the cooler hours of the day (early morning or evening) and stay out of the sun. You can even enjoy sunlight together by sitting near a window and observing nature outside. 

In the evenings, closing curtains as the sun begins to set can also help your loved one to adjust to the evening sunlight and their night-time routine gradually.