Upstate New York is famous for its weather extremes. With the snow and cold of winter in our rearview mirrors, it’s time for summer’s heat and humidity to enter our lives.
Extreme heat precautions are important for everyone, but the need for a comprehensive safety plan is particularly important for people living with dementia. Taking measures to plan ahead for weather changes, like extreme heat, can prevent injuries and help a person with the disease feel more relaxed and less overwhelmed.
“Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias can impact a person’s ability to communicate,” said Beth Smith-Boivin, executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association, Northeastern New York Chapter. “Their ability to communicate how they feel, if they are overheated, or if they want water may be impaired. It’s important to take precautions and implement safeguards to ensure those living with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers are protected during periods of extreme heat and humidity.”
The Alzheimer’s Association offers tips for families facing Alzheimer’s and other dementias to prepare for extreme heat conditions:
Plan ahead. Family and friends should prepare accordingly and make plans to regularly check-in on a person living with dementia during extreme heat. Arrange alternative plans for cooler spaces, if air conditioning is unavailable, and dress in loose, light clothing.
Stay hydrated. Increased water intake is essential to maintaining good hydration and health during extreme heat. Know the signs of heat exhaustion to avoid heat stroke. Dehydration may be difficult to notice in a person living with dementia, as signs like increased fatigue, dry mouth and headache may be difficult to detect. “Avoiding caffeine is important,” Smith-Boivin said. “Caffeine acts as a diuretic, robbing the body of important fluids.”
Pay attention at night. Just because the sun is down does not mean the heat has gone away. Keep people living with dementia cool by using fans and keeping the air conditioning on. At night, low temperatures can still exceed 75 degrees with little fluctuation in humidity levels, making for difficult and exacerbated sleeping conditions, heightened anxiety and increased agitation.
Prepare for behavioral challenges. Studies have shown that heat can increase agitation in people. “When people are hot, it makes them cranky,” Smith-Boivin said. “Heat can compound behavioral issues such as outbursts, aggression or anxiety.” Try to remove behavioral triggers by addressing the individual’s physical needs related to the heat, then tending to their emotional needs.
Stay informed. Keep an eye on local weather forecasts. High temperatures are not the only cause for concern. “It goes without saying that people living with a form of dementia who also use oxygen may have difficulty breathing when the humidity is high, as the air pollution ratings tend to be elevated during that time,” Smith-Boivin said.
For more information about how the weather impacts individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia, visit alz.org or call the 24/7 Helpline at 800-272-3900.
Marisa Korytko is the Public Relations Director for the Alzheimer’s Association Northeastern New York chapter. She can be reached at email@example.com.