As the temperatures rise across New York, we need to be cautious about our own safety and those we care for. Extreme heat can have a significant impact on everyone’s health, but can be especially dangerous for those living with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease causes changes in the brain and body, which can include increased sensitivity to temperature fluctuations.
Today, there are more than 6 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease, including more than 410,000 in New York. Taking measures to plan ahead for weather changes, like extreme heat, can prevent injuries and help a person with dementia feel less overwhelmed.
“People living with Alzheimer’s and other dementia can be especially vulnerable during extreme weather,” said Kate Anastasia, Program Director at the Alzheimer’s Association Long Island Chapter. “They can have impaired judgment, and they may be unable to communicate discomfort. It’s important to take extra precautions to ensure they are safe during heat advisories and other serious weather events.”
The Alzheimer’s Association is offering safety tips for Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers to prepare for this week’s extreme heat and the hot summer months ahead:
● Make a plan. Family and friends should make plans to regularly check in on a person living with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias during extreme heat. Arrange for them to be in cooler spaces, preferably air conditioning, and help them choose loose, light clothing.
● Pay attention at night. Keep people living with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias cool by using fans and keeping the air conditioning on, if possible. At night, low temperatures can still exceed 75 degrees with little fluctuation in humidity levels, making for difficult sleeping conditions, heightened anxiety and increased agitation.
● Prepare for behavioral challenges. Research shows that heat can increase agitation and confusion in people. Try to remove behavioral triggers by addressing the person’s physical needs related to the heat, then tending to their emotional needs.
● Stay hydrated. Increased water intake is essential to maintaining good hydration and health during extreme heat, for both the caregiving and person with dementia. Know the signs of heat exhaustion to avoid heat stroke. Dehydration may be difficult to notice in a person living with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, as they may not share signs like increased fatigue, dry mouth and headache. And be aware that people taking diuretics, sedatives, or certain heart medication may not sweat as much as others, but this does not mean that they are not hot.
● Stay indoors and out of the sun. Keep individuals cool by using air conditioning at home or head to a public place with air conditioning, such as a senior center or shopping mall. If you must go outside, be sure to choose loose, light clothing, a hat, and sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.
● Stay informed. Keep an eye on local weather forecasts. High temperatures are not the only cause for concern. Humidity and air pollution indices can lead to breathing difficulties and other health problems. Check in on the person with dementia regularly and seek medical attention if you do notice any symptoms of heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
To learn more about Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias, call 800-272-3900 or visit alz.org.