My latest hang-up is with Sundown Syndrome. Sundowning is the term or condition used to describe late day confusion, agitation, and restlessness typically associated with seniors with some form of dementia.
As nightfall approaches the mood in the house changes. It’s my least favorite time of day, where the energy seems to creep with a menacing edge. My mom gets restless and antsy. She routinely packs her things and gets temperamental about going “home.” My dad’s version is different. He gets frustrated by everything, curses frequently, and is generally ornery. All it takes is one false move and the whole house topples into arguing about things that don’t make any sense because, well, dementia and Alzheimer’s don’t make sense.
If you look hard enough, you can find an explanation for everything. The idea that a concept doesn’t make sense is not something culturally we know how to embrace. Instead we often pick it apart so that we can digest “why.” But why is that? Why can’t unexplainable phenomenons exist to defy the comforts of closure and instead lend themselves to the lesson that we don’t have to know everything. We don’t need to define our existence with scientific explanations, standardized testing, and the evaluation of quantified data merely to plot a point somewhere on a spectrum. As much as the identifying knowledge can provide a basis for moving forward, it seems to equally result in a platform to unfairly categorize, label, and make projections on just about any dichotomy. Specifically, normal verse not.
Is the classic example of Sundowning that much different from what a tired baby experiences around bedtime? Or the toddler who wants to stay up later and fights you on it even though you yourself know exhaustion is near? Fast forward a few years and think about the frustration, exhaustion, or maybe even the depression you might feel when a day escapes you and you have nothing to show for it.
I often experience this pensive energy within myself. It’s a general dissatisfaction for things as the day comes to a close where for whatever reason I am moody. Nothing seems right, no person can fix it, and the upside is the sole fact that sleep will come soon and I can wash myself of this feeling and start fresh again tomorrow. But then tomorrow comes… It’s all rosy and promising till about noon and suddenly the race is on to accomplish something, anything, so that I might release the burden of my own feelings of life being so lack luster. This is an absolute case of the blahs. A shrink would likely label this as depression perhaps with an expensive RX to go with it but what the shrinks don’t know is the definition of “cinched.” How do I explain what cinched is when the word itself is not text book material and just some street slang colloquialized by my old roommate? I am not depressed. I am just cinched, and the recipe for curing cinching is productivity, accomplishment or exercise as a last-ditch effort to feel different. Now, I am not saying that depression isn’t a thing. It most certainly is and “cinched” falls somewhere on the depression spectrum regardless of the word’s actual formality.
My point is we probably all suffer from “sundowning” as the hard wiring of our neurology adjust to the earthly biorhythms that can disrupt circadian rhythm. A day turns to night, summer gives way to winter, and the ocean ebbs and flows. Our internal clocks must adjust to effectively adapt and at times it’s not so easy. What’s to say that sundowning is nothing short of normal considering a senior’s loss in mobility and capacity to act on intention. Seriously, where would we be and what would we talk about without the concept of goals? As caregivers maybe our job is to provide more stimulus, more activity and help create a sense of accomplishment for the “given” so that they might sink into a rewarding night’s sleep and remember that there is no place else they would rather be.
*This piece originally appeared on www.howtofeedasenior.com on February 10, 2016