What happens to a parent or partner or someone you are caring for when, all of a
sudden, as the season changes from summer to fall, then fall to winter, they seem to
get agitated and angry at a certain time of the day?    I found that as the seasons
changed, and the days became SHORTER, my mother became more confused, but more
confused just as darkness descended.  What the heck was going on……

I didn’t know what was happening.  I was still working, but had the ability to be
in regular phone contact with my mother, who was living with me in NYC.  I would
speak with her at 3PM and everything was OK.  At sunset, she would become very
agitated and confused, even if I had just spoken to her 1/2 and hour before.  I
began to research……And I found something called SUNDOWNING.  Sundowning is a
phenomenon when dementia individuals begin to get more confused and agitated as the
sun begins to set.  This usually resolves within a few hours.

Soon I found that by 4:30-5:00PM, she would be calling the “operator” asking “where
is my daughter, I can’t find her”?.    I explained – “You can’t do that mom – and
operator is going to call the police one day thinking you are really left all
alone”…”OK, she said – I won’t”  Big note by the phone  DO NOT CALL OPERATOR
ASKING WHERE MARYELLEN IS    A few days later, when I got home, the phone was off
the hook.  “What’s up mom?”  “I think I called the operator again”.    After a few
such sessions, I knew we were in trouble and took her to a geriatric psychologist…
He asked my mom how she was feeling (we purposely went at 4PM) she said, with a big
smile ” Fine, Fine, Fine” ….I rolled my eyes and went to speak – but the nurse
kindly was able to take mom in the other room to weigh her.   I had time with the
doctor to explain what was happening, he explained sundowning – and offered some
solutions.   Sedation, Nursing Care, and since it would only get worse, perhaps I
should find a full time facility….

I said no,  I would think about other possible solutions, he asked me if I wanted
medications ( I was darn close to saying YES PLEASE!!!!) – but instead,  I went home
and I researched sundowning, read all I could and thought, how can I personalize
this information……EUREKA – I figured it out.   If I could get my brother to call
mom just about at the beginning of sunset, and I could arrange my work schedule to
get home by time their phone call concluded…she would not freak out.  As long as
she was not alone when she realized it went from light to dark, she was OK.  She
would even go outside at night, with my brother, his wife, me and my sainted
boyfriend who was living with “us” during this time, around her, she was fine.  We
could go out to dinner, or dine at home, watch the news, PBS, a movie…..

My advise, if you do not have a sibling or friend you can DEPEND ON to be on that
phone every day, try to enlist the help of neighbors,  members from your religious
congregation, a volunteer from a senior care center – and just try to have someone
with your elder from when it begins to change from sunset to darkness and until you
can get home.
Create a task – shell peas for dinner, fold napkins, count out the silverware if you
set a table for dinner, have them play a game of cards…anything to just keep them
busy, but not a task that you depend upon.  It makes the difference between coming
home to a house out of control and full of fear and chaos and a home where you an
take off your coat say hello to everyone, thank you “helper” check in with your care
“receiver” and sit down for a moment……. and then begin your next job shift as
care giver and home provider.  But without the crisis management mentality…. and
it really can help.

~ Maryellen


Do you feel like you need to hit the REFRESH button on your life? Download our free guide and begin to create your best life yet!