Surviving the Winter When A Loved One Has Dementia

The winter months can pose many challenges for seniors but can pose an even greater threat to seniors that present cognitive deficits for the individual as well as the family caregiver.

From ice, sleet and snow to shorter days with less sunlight, seniors face increased risks for injury, malnutrition and even isolation. These seasonal changes are only some of the possible stressors your loved one may face in the coming months. Getting to and from appointments, dealing with increased fall risks and overcoming the winter blues can be daunting when added to the daily hurdles of round the clock care.

Right at Home Boston North’s Community Relations Team, recently presented recommendations for keeping your loved one with dementia safe during the winter. The free community event was graciously hosted by Artis Senior Living in Reading, a memory care facility dedicated to assisting individuals and families with all aspects of dementia care. At Artis, individuals are not defined by their disease but defined by what makes them unique and excited about life. Over 35 people attended the program from Reading and other local towns. Guests from the program included family caregivers, loved ones, medical professionals and staff from Artis.

Winter Safety Tips

The following winter safety tips are meant to help family caregivers be more alert to the dangers of colder weather for loved ones who have Alzheimer’s or a related form of dementia.

  • Be prepared before a winter storm hits
    • Make sure your loved one has enough food and water to last until the storm passes and road conditions improve.
    • Keep all cell phones and tablets charged in case the power goes out.
    • Have flashlights, blankets and other warm clothing close by in case of power failure.
  • Hypothermia
    • Individuals with cognitive impairment may find it difficult to hot and cold temperature changes and weather changes. To keep your loved ones safe, make sure you know the signs of hypothermia: shivering, exhaustion, sleepiness, slurred speech.
    • If your loved one shows signs of hypothermia contact medical help immediately.
  • Slips and falls
    • With winter comes snow, ice and freezing rain which pose great risk for increased slips and falls.
    • To ensure your loved one remains safe, make sure they have appropriate footwear (non-skid shoes) for good traction.
    • Try using rubber mats to put in the door ways to not track in water from outside.
    • Make sure to have a supply of salt to put down on walkways and other outdoor surfaces.
  • Communication
    • Make sure to check-in with your loved one periodically during the storm.
    • If you live locally stop by to check in when the roads become safe.
    • If you don’t live near your loved one, is there someone close by, friend, relative or neighbor, that can check up on them before and after the storm hits? Also, make sure to inform them of your loved one’s emergency contacts and where important medical information is kept.
  • Combat the “Winter Blues”
    • The “winter blues”, or seasonal affective disorder, can occur due to the shorter days, less sunlight and overall dreariness that winter brings.
    • It can also be confusing for someone with Alzheimer’s and dementia and may even cause sleep patterns to be disrupted.
    • Try opening up the blinds to get as much sunlight as possible during the day.
    • Keep lights on and set timers.
  • Keep an Active Lifestyle
    • Seniors who participate in regular physical and social activities are more likely to also take part in healthy eating habits.
    • Research and studies now link social activity to maintaining good physical and mental health which are likely to ward off diseases and help individuals maintain good overall health.
    • Keeping loved ones with dementia involved in activities during the winter months can help maintain good health, fight isolation and even combat the “winter blues”.

As we all know, winter can pose challenges for seniors, but with awareness and planning, they will stay healthy and be ready for spring. With Right at Home Boston and North’s trained caregivers, we can help to provide senior clients with the highest quality care possible to keep them happy and healthy at home. Our customized in-home care services allow caregivers to engage with clients physically, emotionally, mentally and socially - and provides a system of care that addresses safety, nutrition, mind, body, and activities of daily living (ADLs) in winter, and all year round.

Victoria Guskiewicz
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