Norrms McNamara: Sundowning... from the heart

Torbay Weekly

Many people have heard the word sundowning when it comes to dementia but not that many know exactly what it is.

I hope this short explanation will be able to help you to understand what it is, and what happens so you are able to help those with dementia.

It's mostly from late afternoon onwards but like anything else regarding this disease, there are no hard and fast rules.

As it gets later in the day I seem to drift off into a world of my own. This, i know, is part of my sundowning and I am going to try, as best I can, explain what I mean, please bear with me.

Do you know when you are just drifting off to sleep, and you sometimes enter a dream state? Your eyes are closed and you dream very lightly?

Well, if you can imagine the same thing happening, but with your eyes open.

My thoughts and actions seem to take me to places I have never been before, although some seem very familiar.

I lose all track of time and sometimes feel as if I have spent a day away, or hours at the very least, when in actual fact, it may have only been a few minutes. I hope you are with me so far.

The places I travel to are very real to me and sometimes as I come round, I feel as if I have forgotten something, or I have forgotten to be somewhere, like a missed appointment, or meeting.

Sometimes I feel as if I am working in an environment I know so well, but when I come out of my sundowning state, all that is left is confusion and a lack of understanding of how I could have been somewhere for so long, and yet here I am, still sat in my front room, or in a waiting room at the doctors or such like.

It does not matter sometimes what time of day it is but it's usually in the latter part of the day, or later, not every night, but seems to be most days these days.

I have found myself standing, talking in the front room, when, what seems like seconds before, I was on a playing field, or walking into town.

I feel as if I actually know people, from my sundowning side, people I have got to know and know by sight, their faces so very familiar, and yet, in the cold light of day, i know this to be impossible.

Am I insane ? No, Do I have a mental Illness? No. So many people confuse mental illness with dementia - the thing to remember always is mental illness can be cured, dementia cannot, as yet.

Do I suffer - not live with - sundowning caused by my dementia? Yes! I always make a point of saying this, and please don’t be swayed by the powers that be that say you shouldn’t use the word 'suffering'.

You suffer from headaches, don’t you? You suffer from migraines? So what’s the difference? We don’t want putting in a box, please.

More should be researched on this but more importantly, more should be said about this part of the illness, it should be talked about in care homes, class rooms and support groups, it should be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century and shown to all what horrors it brings so we can begin to understand it.