One of the challenges with having a loved one with Alzheimer’s Disease is sundowners. Sundowners is a symptom of Alzheimer’s and Dementia whereby your loved one becomes more confused mentally towards the end of the day (hence the name). There are wide variations of sundowners including utter confusion, wandering, aggression, shadowing (meaning they follow you around), repeatedly asking questions that they do not remember that they’ve asked and rapid mood changes which can range from crying (depression) to fear to stubbornness to restlessness and even to rocking back and forth in an effort to self-soothe. Not all of the symptoms of sundowners occur every night, nor are they the same for every person. I’ve written about it before here in case you are interested.
My Aunt suffered from sundowners which was hard on her and on her caregivers. It always seemed to increase in intensity when the moon was full, when we changed to/from daylight savings time and when the seasons changed. I think there’s more to outside forces than we may think!
My Mom has occasional bouts of sundowners as well, but confusion is her main symptom. We were having a conversation recently after 6pm which was lovely when suddenly, her knowledge base fell completely out of her head. We had been discussing my children, her grandchildren, whom she knew by name, by age and was interactively talking about them when suddenly she interrupted me,
I have to ask you. Do you have children?
Yes, Mom. I have children. You have grandchildren!
Oh my, I didn’t know you were old enough to have children. How many do you have? Do they live with you?
I have to say that years ago, I would have been utterly distraught to hear her ask me that question right in the middle of talking about my children when she was fully cognizant of their presence, knowing who they are and having seen them recently. But I have learned that Alzheimer’s is sneaky and can interrupt a loved one’s knowledge base in a split second, rendering them unaware. So I simply continued the conversation with her, telling her about my children and reminding her gently of their names.
Suddenly, it was like she was back in her mind and she began reminiscing about them with memories of their childhood that she knew. We laughed together and enjoyed the connection. This went on for a bit when suddenly the blip happened again and we had to begin all over. Then at one point, she was thinking that I was her sister and was asking me if I remembered certain things about her childhood. But all along the conversation, one part was perfectly clear – my Mom loves me, trusts me and knows my name for which I am ever grateful! That is the piece of peace that stays with me long after confusing conversations and even throughout them. My Mom loves me and knows how much I love her – what more can you ask for?
I have to remind myself that it’s just part of the disease. As I’ve written before, when we stay calm, we can flow with whatever comes up. It’s taken me a long time to get to this place of peace and acceptance. I had to get the belief that this isn’t how it should be out of my head and simply accept and be with what is.
I keep her sense of calm foremost in my head. I keep conversations light and happy. I do answer her questions with truth when she asks, if I think that they will not hurt her. But as you have seen, Swinging With Mom sometimes we have to repeat the truth which is hard. It takes patience, love and a sense of humor to love everyone and Mom is here to remind me to strengthen the bonds of love and acceptance for all who are in my life. Thank you Mommy!