DAYTON — As the winter season officially begins, Alzheimer’s caregivers should prepare for safety challenges that could occur because of the cold temperatures and shorter daylight hours.
Individuals with Alzheimer’s may not always dress appropriately, and balance and mobility can be a challenge. Perception problems can make it difficult for the person living with Alzheimer’s or dementia to see ice on sidewalks or realize that ice is slippery or that snow is not a solid surface.
Sarah Cameron, care and support coordinator for the Alzheimer’s Association Miami Valley Chapter, said, “The winter can be a difficult time of year in regards to safety of people living with dementia. Due to the changes in the brain, diagnosed individuals may not know how to dress appropriately for the weather. This is a major concern in regards to wandering. Make sure to put safety measures in place including things like door alarms so you can be alerted if your loved one leaves the home.”
Six in 10 individuals with dementia will wander. A person with Alzheimer’s may not remember his or her name or address, and can become disoriented, even in familiar places. While wandering during winter, they could leave the house without a coat or hat.
If you know you are going outside, make sure the person you are caring for wears clothing that covers as much exposed skin as possible, Cameron said. Several layers of lightweight clothing for easy movement is a good option to consider. A hat is important since body heat escapes from an uncovered head and don’t forget to wrap a scarf to cover up an exposed neck. Mittens keep hands warmer than gloves and may be easier to help get on and off.
Winter months bring decreased sunlight and shorter days. Visual perception is already a challenge for those living with Alzheimer’s or other dementias and can cause increased confusion or disorientation in dark or shadowy environments both inside and out.
“While the wintertime can be a beautiful time of year, it is hard for many to be confined to the home and not be able to go outside. This is true for people living with dementia as well, especially if they are used to being active. It is important to find other ways for your loved one to stay active. You might consider joining a gym, walking around a store, or even taking a car ride together. That way you can both get out of the house and burn off some energy,” Cameron said.
Alzheimer’s disease is a fatal brain disease that cannot be prevented, cured or slowed. In the Miami Valley, 30,000 people live with the disease and 90,000 people care for them. If you need care advice, the Alzheimer’s Association provides 24/7 care through its Helpline at 800-272-3900.
Winter Safety Tips:
• Be prepared. Check weather conditions regularly and have emergency plans in place.
• Bundle up. Assist a loved one with Alzheimer’s whom may not be able to dress appropriately for winter weather conditions.
• Avoid slips and falls. Assume all surfaces are slick and take precautionary measures.
• Prevent wandering. Shorter days during winter months can also increase the risk of “sundowning.” Monitor closely for agitation or restlessness as day transitions into night.
• Ask for help. According to a recent Alzheimer’s Association survey, a whopping 84% of caregivers said they would like more support in providing care for someone with Alzheimer’s or another dementia, especially from their family. Don’t hesitate to ask for help with snow/ice removal, grocery shopping or other errands.