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The Mystery of Sundowning

The Mystery of Sundowning

Associate Editor

“I started to notice, in the winter especially, that around 5 o’clock, he would change,” says Pauline of her husband, Paul, who was diagnosed with dementia 17 years ago.

“We could be sitting in the living room quietly, and all of a sudden he would announce, ‘Well, it’s almost 10 o’clock. I have to go home.”’ 

Pauline and Paul Martin have been married for 68 years. They met at a church dance in England when she was 15 and he was 13. (“It was Tuesday the 29th of November, 1938, just before seven, and I saw this tall, tall boy walk in the door and, well, I’m telling you a bolt just went through us both,” Pauline says.)

“And so when he told me ‘it’s time to go home,’ his mind was right back to when we were teenagers,” says 92-year-old Pauline from her condominium in White Rock, B.C. 

In his highly distressed and agitated state, Paul, a retired navy plane navigator, was fulfilling a war-era mission of sorts. 

His childhood village was about a three-mile bike ride from Pauline’s. But the war meant curfews—Paul had to be in his home, the apartment above the tire shop his parents owned, by 10 pm. No exceptions, even for this courtship with the love of his life. 

“No way could I convince him that we were already home,” says Pauline of those nights in their living room. “He would get almost violent, telling me “I’ve got to go home! My parents are wondering where I am!” Pauline decided quickly never to argue. She would instead pull on her coat and head with Paul into the night.

“I can’t tell you how many times we walked around White Rock trying to find his father’s tire shop,” says Pauline. Eventually, when they were both tired, she would say, “maybe we’ve taken the wrong way and we should go back again.” Paul would usually agree, they would go back to their living room, and Paul would fall asleep around one in the morning. 

But there were times Paul refused to let Pauline walk with him. On those nights, Pauline followed her husband. 

“I stayed about 50 yards behind him and he would turn around and say ‘go home, stop following me!’ Eventually he got tired, propped himself against a lamppost…we’d walked about four blocks. So I casually went to pass him and he looked at me and said ‘What are you doing here?’ I said, ‘I’m on my way home, would you like to come with me?’”

“I took his hand and we walked home and he said, ‘Do you know all the time we’ve been together, there’s been this old woman following me…’ Then he looked around and said ‘I can’t see her now, though. Do you know she used to be in an asylum….?’ ”

There’s humor in Pauline’s story, and she’ll laugh when she shares it, but she will cry too. She took care of Paul for 15 years (he recently moved to a nursing home) and “sundowning was one of the hardest parts of the disease,” she says.   

Continue Reading: to find out what sundowning is, click here.

About the author

Jasmine Miller

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