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Hot weather presents challenges in dementia care
Columbia Basin Herald - 8/2/2022
Aug. 2—Hot summer weather can pose a special risk to people suffering from Alzheimer's and other dementia conditions, but there are ways for caregivers to minimize the risk.
"The dangers of extreme temperatures, which can cause heat stroke in a matter of minutes, are magnified for someone living with dementia," Jennifer Reeder, director of educational and social services for the Alzheimer's Foundation of America, wrote in a press release. "Dementia-related illnesses can impair a person's ability to know when they are thirsty or in danger of overheating, communicate basic needs or remember basic safety protocols.
"Caregivers cannot solely depend on waiting for the person to express that they are too hot or need to cool off," the press release said.
As a result, caregivers should keep an eye out, watching for signs of hyperthermia. That's abnormally high body temperature, caused by an inability to regulate heat. Seniors and people with chronic medical conditions are at the highest risk, the press release said.
Heat stroke is one form — and a life-threatening form at that — of hyperthermia. Warning signs include excessive sweating, exhaustion, flushed or red skin, muscle cramps, fast pulse, nausea, muscle cramps, headaches or dizziness.
Dementia can rob a person of their ability to know when they're thirsty, so caregivers should monitor patients and encourage them to drink something frequently, preferably water. Alcohol and caffeinated drinks can contribute to dehydration, so those should be avoided.
Alzheimer's and dementia patients can go wandering — and that can be dangerous, the press release said. Patients can get lost or disoriented, and not know how to ask for help or who to call, it said.
The impulse to wander sometimes comes from unmet needs, like hunger or thirst, so caregivers should work to make sure basic needs are met. It also comes from a lack of stimulation, so it's a good idea to work on both physical and mental stimulation, even if it's just as simple as engaging in conversation or taking a walk around the house.
If symptoms of hyperthermia do appear, caregivers should act immediately.
"Resting in an air-conditioned room, removing clothing, applying cold compresses and drinking fluids can help cool the body. If the person faints, exhibits excessive confusion or becomes unconscious, consider it a medical emergency and call 911," the press release said.
Caregivers should plan ahead in case of power failures. Electrical devices like cell phones and tablets should be fully charged, and a flashlight should be easily accessible. Caregivers should have an emergency contact for utility providers as well as local police and fire departments.
Some localities provide "cooling centers" for people, and caregivers should know if any are available in the area if the person with dementia doesn't have air conditioning. If the patient doesn't live close by, caregivers should make arrangements to have someone who does live nearby check on the patient. Somebody who lives close by also should have access to important medical information, like insurance details, and arrangements should be made to ensure access to water and places to get cool.
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