Hot and cold weather tips

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Get tips to help people living with dementia cope with hot and cold weather.

Young man helping senior man under distress.

Hot weather tips

It’s important for everyone to take extra care in the extreme heat. Elderly people in particular, can be susceptible to stress and illness from the heat. It takes time to adjust to hot temperatures, and serious medical problems can occur when someone becomes overheated. On very hot days, venture outside with caution.

Beat the heat by taking these minor precautions

Stay cool: Some people don’t perspire very much, even when it’s humid. Stay out of the heat at the hottest times of the day and seek shade when you are outside. Being exposed to high heat can lead to heat-related problems such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Stay in areas where there is plenty of air conditioning and air circulation.

Drink plenty: Thirst declines with age, and older sweat glands don’t produce as much sweat as they used to. Also, the sweat you produce tends to contain more salt. Lack of salt in the body can cause sudden drops in blood pressure. Drink plenty of water or juice throughout the day, as often as every 15 to 20 minutes. Avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks, which can make it more difficult for your body to adjust its temperature.

Apply cool cloths: A cool cloth applied to the face, neck and arms, as well as short baths and showers, are other good ways to beat the heat. Avoid heavy meals. Wear lightweight, light-coloured clothing.
Watch for signs: Be aware of signs of illness due to excess heat. Muscle cramps, fatigue, confusion, light-headedness and nausea can all be signs of trouble. So can laboured breathing, chest discomfort, and a rapid or erratic pulse.

Watch for mosquitoes: Hot weather also brings out the mosquitoes, and the risk of West Nile virus, which they transmit to humans. Prevent mosquito bites by using insect repellent and covering up with light clothing—long sleeves and pants.

Tips for protection from heat and mosquitoes:

  • Wear sunglasses to help protect your eyes from the sun’s UV rays.
  • Wear a hat with a wide brim; this will help shield your skin from UV rays.
  • When possible, wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants and socks when outdoors.
  • Avoid or take extra care when you are outdoors between dusk and dawn.
  • Avoid areas where there is standing water.
  • Stay in shaded areas when outdoors.
  • Avoid outdoor activities during midday, when the sun’s rays are strongest.
  • Check the expiry date of any protective products you are using.

Check out www.extremeheat.ca, an online resource providing information, tools, and tips on protecting yourself from heat-related illnesses. This website is a collaboration of McMaster University, Health Canada, the Ontario College of Family Physicians and the Clean Air Partnership.

Cold weather tips

Staying warm and safe outdoors

In the winter, getting outside and active can be fun for everyone. But going outdoors with someone with dementia requires great care. He won’t always dress appropriately for colder weather and slippery conditions. Perception problems may make it difficult for him to see ice on the sidewalk or he may believe snow to be a solid surface. To manage outdoor risks:

  • Cover all exposed skin. Hats and scarves are particularly important.
  • Dress in bright colours and add reflective material to clothing.
  • Encourage her to take smaller steps and slow down.
  • Make sure she wears non-skid boots.
  • Buy boots that use Velcro instead of laces to make it easier for her to dress herself.

Keeping warm inside the home

It is important to keep the house at a good temperature during the winter as a person with dementia may not know if he is warm or cold. Health problems such as diabetes, thyroid problems and arthritis, or certain medications may make it more difficult to stay warm. To help him keep warm:

  • A temperature of 68 Fahrenheit or 20 Celsius is a good minimum.
  • Encourage him to wear long johns under his pajamas with socks and slippers around the house.

Other issues

People with dementia may feel increased anxiety, confusion, and even sleepiness due to the decreased sunlight in the winter months. To manage these issues:

  • Encourage some physical activity each day.
  • Install special bulbs that simulate sunlight.
  • Open curtains during daylight hours.

The risks when people with dementia go missing are particularly high in the cold winter months. It can also happen without warning. He can get confused and disoriented even close to home. Contact your local Alzheimer Society for specific programs to help keep him safe.