Avoiding Extreme Summer Heat with Dementia

staying cool in summer heat when living with dementia

As we currently struggle to cope with the unusually high temperatures sweeping the US and overseas, it is important to consider what that might mean for people who care for those living with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia

It is important to realize that, as we get older, our bodies are not able adjust to high temperatures lo as well as they did when we were young, and we can lose the ability to perspire and to regulate our body temperature. Our skin also tends to become thinner as we age, and this reduces our protection against the sun.

We must bear in mind as well that some prescription medications can further reduce our natural ability to sweat, and thus impair our ability to regulate our temperature.

These risk factors have to be carefully managed in the case of a person living with any kind of cognitive impairment, as they may not be able to communicate any specific heat-related distress that they are experiencing. 

In fact, in some cases, they may not even notice the heat or discomfort because of changes in the way that their brain is able to process sensory information, or regulate their body’s awareness of and response to excessive heat.

Caregivers therefore must endeavor to keep the person in their care as cool as possible, while monitoring them for indications of heat-related stress. Here are a few suggestions to follow when experiencing unusually hot weather conditions:

  • This may seem obvious, but it makes it no less important – ensure that the person in your care is wearing cool clothing, such as light-weight, loose-fitting clothes, ideally manufactured from natural materials, such as cotton. 
  • Fresh air is good, unless it is heavy and humid outside, or oppressively hot. But make sure the person you are caring for wears a hat, or sits under a parasol or sun shade, when venturing outside.
  • Yes, it is expensive to run, but air conditioning is always good. You don’t need however to turn the house into a fridge, but keeping the temperature in the 80-85 degree range will have a significant positive impact. 
  • If air conditioning is just too difficult to keep running, you could perhaps combine a change of scenery with a cooler environment, by perhaps driving to a mall, or to a library, where some time can be spent in an air-conditioned space, as long as it is not too crowded.
  • Keep out of direct sun! Stay indoors during the hottest hours of the day
  • Make sure the person you are caring for drinks plenty of water or juice, but avoid alcohol, coffee or tea. Left to their own devices, people living with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia often forget to drink anything at all; some of them may not even feel thirsty, but failing to drink will lead directly to dangerous dehydration, causing potentially serious. health issues. 
  • Eat light meals and try to avoid using using the oven – that can increase the ambient temperature
  • Check medications: ask a physician if the person’s medications are likely to affect their body’s ability to regulate temperature, or otherwise increase the risk of dehydration.
  • Check in often: If the person you are caring for lives alone, check in with them every day, or ask a neighbor to look in several times a day. 
  • Look for indicators: a cognitively-impaired person may not be able to tell you when he or she is feeling hot or unwell. Also, older people may not sense the onset of worrying levels of heat as quickly as people who are younger. Specifically, look for:
    • Headache, nausea and fatigue; these can be signs of potential heat stress. 
    • Heat fatigue: dizziness, sweaty looking skin that is moist and cool to the touch, a weakened pulse, feeling faint. 
    • Heat stroke: this is life-threatening and requires  Immediate medical attention, as death can occur quickly when heat stroke occurs. Body temperature rises above 100 degrees, and the person may become confused, combative, behave bizarrely, feel faint, stagger. Their pulse is rapid, and their skin is dry, flushed and may feel hot, but there will be a lack of sweat. Breathing may be fast and shallow, and pupils may widen or dilate. At the extreme, delirium, seizures or convulsions, and coma are possible. 

If you encounter any of these issues, dial 911 or summon medical personnel immediately for emergency assistance and, while waiting, take these actions:

  • Have the person lie down in a cool place. 
  • Elevate their feet. 
  • Apply cool, wet cloths or water to the skin, especially the head, groin and armpits which cool quickly. 
  • Fan by hand or with an electric fan. 
  • If possible, give small sips of cool water

Below are links to product recommendations available on Amazon that you can use to stay cool, stay hydrated, and avoid the heat this summer season:

 Portable Neck Cooling Rechargeable Fan 

cooling neck hat for shade

Sun Defender Cooling Neck Guard Wide Brim Hat

clip on chair shade for sun protection

Adjustable Shade Umbrella with Universal Clamp

handheld mini fan for staying cool in summerMini Handheld Fan

REUSABLE FOLDABLE WATER BOTTLES FOR PORTABLE USE BPA Free Silicone Foldable Water Bottles 

cooling patches for heat and feverCooling Patches 

(These links do contain affiliate links that we may earn commission from should you choose to purchase)

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