As the temperatures fall this winter, those caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia should be aware that snow, colder temperatures, and early darkness present special problems.
A loved one with Alzheimer’s won’t necessarily dress appropriately for colder weather. Cover as much exposed skin as possible and provide several layers of lightweight clothing for easy movement, especially if plans include time outside. A hat is important since so much body heat escapes from an uncovered head and don’t forget to add a scarf to cover up an exposed neck. Mittens keep hands warmer than gloves and may be easier to get on and off. Clips designed for skiers can help keep track of gloves or mittens that are otherwise easily misplaced or lost.
Sundowning is a term that refers to increased anxiety, confusion and even increased sleepiness due to the decreased sunlight in the winter months. Visual perception is already an issue for many people with Alzheimer’s and can cause increased confusion or disorientation in dark or shadowy environments both inside and out. Turn lights on earlier, open curtains during daylight hours and add bulbs that simulate sunlight. Install motion detector lights to help illuminate walkways around the home as darkness may fall before arriving home from an outing. Dressing in light or bright colors or adding reflective material to clothing will help a loved one be more easily seen.
To avoid slips and falls, make sure boots are non-skid. There are many boot styles on the market that use Velcro instead of laces to allow the person with dementia some success with dressing themselves. Try separate “tracks” that attach to the soles for added traction on icy surfaces. You can also add a sharp tip to canes for that extra grip on winter days. This device is available at home health care stores.
Assume ALL surfaces are slick and by taking smaller steps and slowing down, the person with Alzheimer’s can match gait and speed to a safer level.
– Perception problems can make it difficult for the person with Alzheimer’s to see ice on the sidewalk or realize that ice is slippery or that snow is not a solid surface.
– Keep sidewalks and driveways clear of ice and snow to make walking outside safe for everyone, but do not overuse ice melt products which can reduce traction.
– Use indoor or garage parking whenever possible.
– Especially on stairs or slick spots, insist on handrail use and walk arm in arm when possible.
– Acquire and use a State issued Handicapped placard enabling closer access to the door of buildings.
NOTE: Special thanks to the Alzheimer’s Association Colorado Chapter for sharing these tips.