What is sundowning?

If you spend the early evening with someone who has dementia, you can notice changes in their mood or behaviour. It’s very common, one in five people living with dementia experience these symptoms. We commonly refer to these as Sundowning.

Sundowning refers to a period of behaviour changes in those living with dementia. It is most commonly associated with Alzheimer’s, although it has also been found in Vascular, Lewy-body and frontotemporal dementia.

During late afternoon or evening, many people living with dementia will experience behaviour changes such as increased anxiety, agitation or anger. This can be challenging, especially if it’s a loved one who is experiencing these changes.

By learning to recognise the symptoms and find causes, there are many ways you can help.

Sundowning triggers

The cause might not always be clear, but there are usually a number of triggers for the behaviour.

Daylight Savings

The change in the clocks can cause a change in routine. It can mean someone living with dementia goes to bed earlier or eats at a different time. This can cause disruption to their usual sleeping pattern.

Old Routines

3pm – 5pm is a common time for sundowning. This is when many parents would be collecting children from school or cooking their evening meal. People living with dementia can revert back to their younger self, so the lack of this routine can be unsettling.


As night time draws in, people go home where they settle in for the night. Someone living with dementia may not recognise the room they’re in, this can be upsetting. The person may say they need to leave and go home, even if they are already there.

Medication Wearing Off

Pain relief medication may wear off, resulting in pain returning. If someone is in pain, it’s natural for them to be anxious and unsettled.


As the sun sets and lights get turned on, shadows can be cast from furniture etc. Someone who is living with dementia can hallucinate and see these as something to be frightened of.


Trying to keep a well-lit home in the evening, or encourage them to sit by a window in natural light can help. It can reduce the chance of hallucinating and seeing something in the shadows. It may also help reset their body clock.

Keeping the person engaged in an activity in the evening, or mimicking a past routine, can help them feel productive. This can stop feelings of anxiety and restlessness. We have put together a list of activities that might be useful to keep someone engaged in an evening – view these here.

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