Hot Weather and Dementia – A Dangerous Combination
by Brandee Cowley, RN BSN, Apostolic Christian Skylines Home Care Services
It looks like we’re in for another hot Peoria County summer.
Did you know that, for older adults, dementia is a risk factor for hospitalization and even death during periods of high heat? A study published by the National Institutes of Health in 2016 indicates that the risk of heat-related hospitalizations is 20 times greater for individuals with dementia when compared with those who do not have dementia.
Why might this be true?
- Dementia may alter an individual’s perceptions of risk, making them less able to understand what is happening and to act on it.
- A person with dementia may forget to drink enough water or may wear clothing unsuitable for hot weather.
- The ability of an individual with dementia to call for help may be diminished.
- An individual with dementia may be taking medications that interfere with the body’s ability to maintain its core internal temperature, cause dehydration or affect perception.
Caregivers of individuals with dementia need to pay extra attention this time of year. If you are the caregiver of an individual with dementia, especially one who is living alone, there are actions you take do to reduce the risk.
Hot Weather Musts for Caregivers
- Check in with your loved one regularly – twice a day if possible. Especially if they are overweight, have heart disease or high blood pressure, or are taking medications such as those listed above. Watch for signs of heat stroke or heat exhaustion. If you are not able to check in regularly, summer may be a good time to add a home care aide to the picture. In addition to making sure your loved one is taking their prescribed medications on schedule, they will watch to be sure they aren’t overmedicating and are otherwise safe.
- If you don’t know whether your loved one’s medications might put them at additional risk during hot weather, review prescription and over the counter medications with their health care professional. Find out if you have to be extra vigilant. (Never discontinue taking a prescription medication without first consulting the prescribing health care professional.)
- Know the symptoms of heat stroke and heat exhaustion and what to do if they occur. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a handy one-page guide for these and other heat-related illnesses at tinyurl.com/acs-heat. Print it, read it, and keep it.
Good Hot Weather Ideas for All Older Adults
- Choose lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.
- Stay cool indoors as much as you can. If your home is not air-conditioned, try to spend time in a cool place such as a public library or shopping mall. If these aren’t an option, the Peoria Journal Star has a list of cooling centers at tinyurl.com/acs-centers or call the Peoria County Health Department at 309-679-6000 for locations.
- Wear sunscreen. At least as important as the SPF rating is following the directions of the product you are using, especially about reapplication. Sunscreen wears off and, if it isn’t reapplied, you have no protection against the sun. A wide brimmed hat may not be fashion forward, but is a good, practical way to keep the sun off your face and neck.
- Avoid hot and heavy meals. Digesting protein makes your body do a lot of work, which creates heat. Lighter carbohydrates like fruit produce a lot less heat.
- Drink plenty of fluids. Try to avoid sugary, caffeinated or alcoholic drinks; they won’t increase your body fluids very much and may actually result in a net loss.
- Stay informed about the weather.Check local news for extreme heat alerts and safety tips.
With a little preparation and planning, summer can be the best season of the year. Have your hot weather plans ready to go and enjoy it. It will all be over before we know it and, in six months, we’ll be looking forward to it all over again.
Central Illinois Area Agency on Aging. The Family Caregiver Resource Center offers no-charge support services to family caregivers Call the Family Caregiver Information and Assistance Specialist at (309) 674-2071.
Alzheimer’s Association. The Peoria Regional Office Offers information and support 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Call (800) 272-3900.
AC Skylines Home Care provides in–home care and nursing services. For more information and a no–charge consultation, call AC Skylines Home Care Services at (309) 689–5343 or send email to email@example.com. Visit www.acskylineshomecare.org or Facebook.com/ACskylinesHomeCare.
Apostolic Christian Skylines’ continuing care retirement community offers senior living options ranging from independent living to skilled nursing care. For more information, call Apostolic Christian Skylines at (309) 683-2500 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit www.acskylines.org or Facebook.com/acskylines.