Sundowners Causes: The Effects of Food, Light, and Sound


Sundowners causes are numerous.  The term “sundowners” refers to how an elderly person who has cognitive impairment or dementia, may start to act confused, angry, or have other disturbing behaviors in the afternoon or early evening – thus “sundowners” syndrome. It may be comforting to know that sundowners syndrome is a well-known phenomenon but the sundowners causes are not as well known.

Some sundowners causes include common triggers, such as changes brought about by food and light. These may be things a caregiver wants to be on the watch for to predict sundowners syndrome as the sun sets in order to give their loved one the best care during this often trying time of day.

Observing sundown syndrome causes

A variety of contributing influences may affect the frequency and severity of the episodes from which an elderly person may suffer. Keep in mind that there are a wide range of causes that can contribute to sundowners syndrome; if you notice something that seems to trigger an episode, it would be well worth your time to experiment with changing that particular factor in order to determine whether it has an ameliorative effect on your elderly loved one.

Causes Related to Diet

Additionally, an elderly person’s diet can be a significant contributor to sundown syndrome. If your elderly loved one is not eating well enough, hunger pangs can actually contribute to the severity of the episodes. Someone who is already confused and somewhat anxious about their surroundings will be more prone to outbursts if the situation is complicated by hunger.

Further, after a meal—especially a large one—blood pressure will drop while the body focuses on beginning the digestion process. A side effect of this reduced blood pressure is that there will be a smaller amount of oxygen reaching the brain. In sufferers of sundown syndrome, this reduced oxygen level can contribute to an episode, especially if the situation is already complicated by other potential triggers.

In addition, in cases where the elderly person is a diabetic or a borderline diabetic, he or she may react adversely to the change in the glucose level in his or her bloodstream. While a normal, healthy person might experience an unexpected feeling of tiredness or sudden elevated energy levels depending on the situation, a person with dementia or other cognitive impairment will not know how to interpret these feelings, and this may contribute to an elevated sense of anxiety, fear, or hostility.