As the temperature dips into seasonal ranges for winter, those caring for someone with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia should all be on notice that snow, extreme temperatures and early darkness present special problems.
Dress Appropriately for Cold Weather
A loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia will not necessarily dress appropriately for colder weather. Cover as much exposed skin as possible and provide several layers of lightweight clothing for easy movement, especially if plans include time outside.
Wearing a hat is important for loved ones with Alzheimer’s or a related dementia since so much body heat escapes from an uncovered head. Also, don’t forget to add a scarf to cover up an exposed neck. Mittens keep hands warmer than gloves and may be easier to help get on and off. Clips designed for skiers can help keep track of gloves or mittens that are otherwise easily misplaced or lost.
Manage the Winter Blues
“Sundowning” is a term that refers to increased anxiety, confusion and even increased sleepiness due to the decreased sunlight in the winter months. Visual perception is already an issue for many people living with Alzheimer’s and dementia and can cause increased confusion or disorientation in dark or shadowy environments both indoors and outdoors.
Manage sundowning by turning lights on earlier, opening curtains during daylight hours or adding bulbs that simulate sunlight. Install motion detector lights to illuminate walkways around the house as darkness may fall before returning home from an outing. Dressing in bright colors or adding reflective material to clothing can help a loved one be more easily seen.
Avoid Slippery Situations
A loved one living with Alzheimer’s disease or related form of dementia will not necessarily dress to avoid slips and falls, so be sure boots are non-skid. There are many boot styles on the market that use Velcro instead of laces to allow the person with dementia some success with dressing themselves. Try separate “tracks” that attach to the soles for additional traction. You can also add a sharp tip to canes for extra grip on icy winter days. This device is available at home health care stores.
Assume All Surfaces are Slick
Taking smaller steps and slowing down allows a loved one with Alzheimer’s or a related dementia to establish their gait and speed to a safer level.
Perception problems can make it difficult for the person with Alzheimer’s to see ice on the sidewalk or realize that ice is slippery or that snow is not a solid surface.
Keep sidewalks and driveways clear of ice and snow to make walking outside safe for everyone, but do not overuse ice melt products which can reduce traction.
Use indoor or garage parking whenever possible.
Especially on stairs or slick spots, insist on handrail use and walk arm-in-arm whenever possible.
Acquire and use a state-issued handicapped placard enabling closer access to the door of building.