People with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia often suffer from something called “sundowning.” This term is used to describe an accelerated onset of agitation and confusion that takes place in late afternoons or evenings.
I had to go to the pharmacy the other evening to pick up a prescription for Marty, my wife, who has Alzheimer’s. I do not leave her alone much anymore but she was dozing on the sofa and I figured I would only be gone for about 30 minutes. I was sure all would be fine. I was wrong.
I returned as quickly as possible, but an unwanted visitor had arrived before I did. Sundowning had shown up; it is a close ally of its boss, Alzheimer’s disease.
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When Marty first began to suffer from Alzheimer’s, sundowning was an infrequent visitor. But now it drops in about every day. I hate it and wish I could, like a magician, make it evaporate in a puff of white vapor. Alas, I cannot. But, there is hope. We have discovered an antidote. Now when sundowning visits, it is hit with our new secret weapon, the “Hail Mary.”
I kid you not.
I really do not understand the sundowning phenomenon but let me give you a brief example of what can happen. Upon arriving home from the pharmacy that day, I found Marty dressed to go out and pacing around the living room. Several large paper bags were on the dining room table, packed with all sorts of things such as cups, dirty laundry, forks and knives, socks, toothpaste, candy, a bar of soap, and other sundry items. She looks at me and says, “Oh finally, you’re home. I have everything ready. I hope we’re not late.”
In her mind, everything is normal. My mind, meanwhile, is trying to make some quick sense out of nonsense. “Late for what?” I ask.
“Don’t start with me. You know we have to get to the airport. The plane will be leaving and we’ll miss it.” Marty was hyper and talking as if on a caffeine high. “Joe and Jerry won’t be able to find us. We have to be on that plane.”
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Joe and Jerry are Marty’s brothers. Joe died 25 years ago and Jerry about 20. I must have received a jolt of grace, because I quickly thought, “Start praying.” So I put my hands on her shoulders and looked her in the eye. “Listen to me Martha. Everything is okay. Planes are delayed. Joe and Jerry are home and will get in touch later. C’mon, let’s sit down for a minute.”
She relaxed a bit and we went over and sat on the sofa. I grabbed her hands in mine and I said, “We need to say a Hail Mary and ask Our Lady to help us straighten out this confusion.”
She smiled at me and we said a Hail Mary together. A few minutes passed by and one Hail Mary turned into a decade of the Rosary. I looked at her and asked, “Are you okay?”
Here is where Alzheimer’s disease can keep you on your toes. “Of course I’m okay. Why wouldn’t I be? What are those bags doing on the table?”
She was calmer and less agitated. Praying to Our Lady and asking her for help had worked. In fact, it had worked better than prescribed medication. And we had had the Hail Mary at our beck and call the whole time and hadn’t used it. Duh!
Sundowning visits us most every day now. It causes agitation and confusion, which comes on rapidly and unexpectedly. Usually Marty wants to know if she has a bed in our house and if she can stay there. Virtually every night I have to assure her that she is in her own home and the bed is hers and she will be sleeping there. When she gets into bed and I pull the blanket up under her chin she finally relaxes. I hold her hand and we say one more Hail Mary. She falls asleep in five minutes.
We are blessed. We have a powerful medicine and it costs nothing. Its name is Hail Mary and, if necessary, we can happily overdose. Thanks to the Hail Mary and our beautiful faith, sundowning has met its match in our house.
One final thought: This “medication” is good for many ailments. If you do not use it, try it. After all, the Blessed Virgin Mary and her Son are the power behind it.