When the late fall to early winter chill sets in, most of us bundle up and move on. We understand that we will eventually reach our destinations and find ways to warm up. We may complain about the weather, but we accept it and modify our clothing and commutes to account for it.
When an individual has dementia, however, they may not recognize the weather changes in ways that those with normal cognitive ability do. While they may feel cold, they may lack the organization skills to find a sweater or jacket, let alone put it on. They may not remember where the thermostat is. Or they may resort to unsafe ways of warming up, such as turning on the oven burners or stove.
As the weather becomes colder, it is important for those caring for loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia to be especially aware of the potential harm weather swings can bring.
Here are some things family caregivers should be on the lookout for and ways to keep your loved ones safe and comfortable as wintery weather ushers in.
- Personal comfort and safety: It seems like common sense to wear a sweater or jacket when the weather is cooler. However, an individual struggling with dementia may not have the ability to execute a simple act of grabbing a blanket or other form of keeping warm. Worse yet if outdoors, as the risk of serious conditions, such as hypothermia becomes very real, especially in colder climates. It’s therefore important for you to check regularly on your loved one and step in to ensure their comfort and safety at all times.
- Indoor heating safety: It’s important to make sure that your loved one’s heating system is up to date and compliant with safety standards. Space heaters, for instance, can quickly become a fire hazard. It may make sense to have a HVAC expert visit and conduct a safety check. Many will do this free of charge. Also make sure that other sources of heat, such as the stove and oven have shut off safety features. The best way to guard against heating hazards is to use a tamper-proof thermostat and keep it set at a comfortable temperature.
- Safeguarding against falls and other winter weather accidents: Icy roads and handrails are accidents ready to happen. Caregivers should exercise extreme caution when walking outdoors with cognitively impaired loved ones. Make sure your loved one is wearing a sturdy pair of gloves as well. Pay special attention to those who may be prone to wandering. Make sure safeguards are in place to keep your loved one safely inside and out of harm’s way.
Changing seasons and the weather that accompanies them are but a passing concern for most of us. However, it is important for caregivers to realize the discomfort and confusion that weather changes can bring to loved ones struggling with dementia. By taking the time to plan properly and prepare your loved one, both inside and outside the home, you can help avoid potential issues and hazards.
Winter weather can be a refreshing change and bring a festive touch as we approach the holidays. Make sure you are doing everything you can to keep your loved one with dementia comfortable and safe. It will make for a more enjoyable season for all of you!