Baby it’s cold — and dangerous — outside for loved ones with Alzheimer’s

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By Jim Herlihy | Alzheimer’s Association

Winter weather conditions — colder temperatures, snow, ice and early darkness — are potentially dangerous and even life-threatening for the 76,000 Coloradans with Alzheimer’s or other dementia. 

For their 159,000 unpaid family caregivers, the stress and challenges of keeping loved ones safe during this time can be overwhelming. By preparing in advance, caregivers can anticipate and avoid the risks posed by winter weather.

“People living with Alzheimer’s and other dementia can be vulnerable during winter weather because their judgment may be impaired and they may be unable to communicate discomfort,” said Meg Donahue, director of Community Engagement for the Alzheimer’s Association of Colorado. “It’s really important to take extra precautions with these individuals when there is severe winter weather, snow or ice.”

To help anticipate the challenges posed by winter weather, the Alzheimer’s Association offers these tips: 

• Take advantage of the daylight. Winter months bring decreased sunlight and shorter days. Visual perception can be a challenge for those living with Alzheimer’s or other dementias, and can cause increased confusion or disorientation in dark or shadowy environments, both inside and out.

• Prevent wandering. Wandering is one of the most frequent and challenging problems that caregivers face and can be extremely dangerous in colder conditions. 

Shorter days during winter months can also increase the risk of “sundowning.” Monitor closely for agitation or restlessness as day transitions into night. The Alzheimer’s Association offers these tips to combat sundowning:

• Bundle up. Help the person living with Alzheimer’s dress warmly for winter weather conditions by wearing dry, loose-fitting layers and covering exposed skin.

• Buddy up: In an Alzheimer’s Association survey, a whopping 84 percent of caregivers said they would like more support in providing care for someone with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, especially from their family. It can be hard for caregivers to find time to complete simple tasks outside of the home. Don’t hesitate to ask others for help with errands, grocery shopping or snow/ice removal.

• Prevent slips. Balance and mobility can be a challenge for a person living with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Assume all surfaces are slick. Assist the person by taking smaller steps and slowing down so they can match gait and speed to a safer level.

• Be prepared. Winter storms can be dangerous. Check weather conditions regularly and have emergency plans in place.

More safety tips can be found at www.alz.org. The Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 helpline also provides reliable information and support to all those who need assistance. Call the helpline toll-free anytime, even holidays, at (800) 272-3900.