Keeping individuals with Alzheimer’s or dementia safe and warm during the cold winter months can be somewhat challenging as they are especially vulnerable to cold weather risks.
Christine Nelson, a geriatric nurse at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, writes about cold weather precautions for affected individuals and recommends keeping the home thermostat between 54 and 75 degrees.
“You might think keeping the house toasty is the best way to counter winter’s wrath, and that’s true to the point," Nelson wrote. "But keeping the thermostat set too high can cause your loved one to overheat and sweat and this makes them dehydrated.”
It is better to dress the affected individual in several layers of clothing to minimize heat loss.
Electric space heaters are often used in the home and are great alternatives for staying warm. However, they pose a fire hazard and are not safe for anyone with Alzheimer’s or dementia to use on their own. The use of electric blankets also is risky, especially if it doesn't automatically turn off. Older adults have thinner skin, and electric blankets can cause burns and abrasions.
Another consideration is that the affected person might not always realize how cold it is outside. Appropriate clothing, coats, hats, scarves and gloves should be worn to prevent hypothermia, a low body temperature can cause serious repercussions such as memory loss, exhaustion, slurred speech and more.
Special attention should be given to an affected person who wanders. The home should be secured so that he or she cannot wander in the chilly outdoors.
If you are taking your loved one outdoors, be mindful that he or she may be unsteady. Rain, ice or snow can make walking treacherous. Walk in cleared areas and make sure your loved one is wearing sturdy shoes or boots with good traction.
While staying indoors during the winter months keeps your loved one safe and secure, it also can cause him or her to be restless or to have sleeping problems. If you notice your loved one having these issues or becoming depressed, try some light therapy by keeping the lights on throughout the house, go outside when its's sunny and get some exercise and refrain from being alone.
Make sure you and your loved enjoy some socialization with others as keeping engaged can ward off the blues.
Questions about Alzheimer's disease or related disorders can be sent to Dana Territo, the Memory Whisperer, owner of Dana Territo Consulting, LLC, at email@example.com.