Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s is a full-time job unto itself, but wintertime layers additional challenges on caregivers’ already full routines. Darkness, slippery conditions, and more winter weather factors all seem to conspire to make caring for those with dementia even more fraught than usual. Princeton Health Care Center has some simple advice to make the season safer.
Appropriate Cold-Weather Dress
Let’s start with the fundamentals. Dementia patients tend not to dress appropriately for cold weather, so it’s incumbent on their caregivers to ensure they’re properly attired when the mercury drops. That means dressing in layers, minimizing exposed skin, and keeping plenty of mittens on hand, since gloves can be difficult to get on and off. It’s also helpful to purchase removable cleats or tracks that can provide additional traction on ice.
Winter-Proof Their Living Space
Check thermostats to ensure a proper setting for ample warmth. Remove space heaters, which can be a fire hazard, and consider blocking off radiators to avoid the possibility of burns and injuries. Leave your loved one with nutritious meals that can be microwaved, since it’s not uncommon for them to forget a pot on the stove or a dish in the oven. Meal delivery services like Meals on Wheels can also help in some circumstances.
Visual acuity decreases in low light, leading to confusion and anxiety in the afternoon known as sundowning. Illumination is your friend; the Alzheimer’s Association recommends turning lights on earlier in the day, using daylight-balanced bulbs, and even installing motion-activated lights that will turn on as you move from room to room. This helps keep them oriented and also helps to decrease the chances of a slip and fall.
The above-cited article from the Alzheimer’s Association reminds us that as many as 67 percent of those with Alzheimer’s and dementia will wander off and become lost at some point during the disease, with many doing so repeatedly. It’s thought that a person with Alzheimer’s is trying to find some semblance of their old life and routine. Perhaps they are avoiding stressors and loud noises or maybe they are spending too much time inactive. They could even possibly be experiencing side effects from certain medications.
There’s never a good time for wandering behavior, but it’s especially stressful during cold weather. For added peace of mind, GPS-enabled tracking devices can be useful for geofencing and tracking individuals prone to wandering. Many can also be encoded with an individual’s health information in case they’re found far from home and require medical attention.
Consider Outside Help
There are times when our best intentions and most diligent efforts are not enough. Many caregivers face enormous physical, emotional, and financial pressure when trying to care for loved ones with dementia. This is true whether the person we’re caring for is still trying to maintain a measure of independence and dignity by remaining in their own home, or if they’ve moved in with us.
There is no shame in getting help.
This may come in the form of a visiting nurse or a live-in health aide. Conversely, you may realize that the highest quality of care will come from a skilled nursing facility that can provide around-the-clock care and supervision. If you’re considering this route, we invite you to contact Princeton Health Care Center to weigh your options.