When Fall arrives it brings cooler weather in most regions across the country. We all tend to bundle up a bit more and eat warmer, heartier foods. Cooler weather can be challenging for those with dementia. As the disease deteriorates the brain it decreases its ability to give the instructions necessary to do many everyday things, including staying warm. Dementia can also prevent a loved one from communicating how they feel. As a result, he or she cannot express to you feelings of warmth or cold or discomfort. If your loved one suffers with dementia you will need to make sure that you implement new strategies to keep him or her warm in cool weather. Here are some suggestions that may help.
Move the furniture. This doesn’t mean you have to conduct a wholesale redesign of your home. It does mean that moving your loved one’s favorite chair can help to block drafts. For example, if he or she sits in a wing chair, move it so that the back of the chair blocks drafts from a window or door. It may seem like a small thing to do but it will make a big difference in the overall warmth of your loved one.
Serve warm meals, snacks and drinks. When you serve warm foods your loved one will be warmer and remain well hydrated. Soups and stews can be intensely nutritious, combining numerous vegetables that are packed with beneficial vitamins and other nutrients. They are also easy to eat and digest. If possible, make a big batch of soup and/or stew that your loved one likes and freeze it in individual servings. It becomes an easy, warm lunch and/or snack during the week.
Get clever with warm clothing. People who suffer from dementia tend to remove layers of clothing. Dementia prevents them from understanding that the layers are to keep them warm. One way to get around this challenge is to purchase insulated underwear. If the person removes a sweater or sweatshirt, he or she will still remain warm because of the insulated underwear worn under his or her pants, shirt or blouse. Continually asking a person with dementia to keep his or her sweater on can create conflict and anxiety. A simple strategy like purchasing insulated underwear can make life easier for everyone involved.
Maintain a warm interior temperature. Make sure the temperature inside the home is reasonably warm, including at night when outdoor temperatures can drop even further. It’s recommended that the indoor temperature be maintained at a minimum of 68 degrees fahrenheit. As the body ages, the skin becomes thinner and the body’s circulation is not as adept at keeping the body temperature steady. It’s important that the home’s heat is kept high enough to provide warmth.
A study performed at Glasgow Caledonian University found that chilly indoor temperatures may contribute to falls and significantly reduce a senior’s mobility. The study found that when elderly women sat in a room heated to only 59 degrees fahrenheit, their skin temperature dropped six degrees in just 45 minutes and “…strength in the quadriceps muscle of the leg fell by 6 percent, for example, and the women’s speed in going from sitting to standing fell by 10 percent.”
Observe your loved one
In addition to these strategies, keep a close eye on your loved one as the outdoor temperatures change.
- Notice their skin – is it changing color, does it seem blue?
- Feel their skin to determine if they feel hot or cold to the touch.
- Observe his or her behavior. Outbursts or anxiety may mean that your loved one is experiencing physical discomfort.
Just like with a young child, you will have to figure out what your loved one needs and then find ways to increase his or her comfort.