As temperatures rise, extreme heat impacts everyone; but it can be especially dangerous for people living with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia. Alzheimer’s causes a number of changes that may affect the brain and body, including changes in sensitivity to temperatures.
Today, there are more than 6 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease. Taking measures to plan ahead for weather changes, like extreme heat, can prevent injuries and help a person with dementia feel more relaxed and less overwhelmed.
Teresa Morris, program director for the Alzheimer’s Association West Virginia Chapter, offers important tips for families during the hot summer months:
Make a plan. Family and friends should make plans to regularly check in on a person living with Alzheimer’s disease during extreme heat. Spend time in cooler spaces whenever possible, stay inside when possible, and dress in loose, light clothing.
Pay attention at night. Keep people living with Alzheimer’s cool by using fans and air conditioning. At night, low temperatures can still exceed 75 degrees with little fluctuation in humidity, making for difficult and exacerbating sleeping conditions, heightened anxiety and increased agitation. Sleep interruptions may increase wandering behaviors.
Prepare for behavioral challenges. Heat can increase agitation and confusion. It’s common for a person living with dementia to wander or become lost or confused about their location at any stage of the disease. Six in 10 people living with dementia will wander at least once; many do so repeatedly.
Stay hydrated. Water intake is essential to maintaining good hydration and health during warm weather. Dehydration may be difficult to notice in a person living with Alzheimer’s, and signs like increased fatigue, dry mouth and headache may not be well communicated by the person with the disease.
Watch the weather. High temperatures aren’t the only cause for concern. Humidity and air pollution can cause breathing difficulties and increased confusion. Anyone with Alzheimer’s or dementia should be monitored regularly and given immediate medical attention if symptoms like dehydration, heat exhaustion or heat stroke occur.
There are 39,000 West Virginia residents aged 65 and older living with Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association 2023 “Facts and Figures.” That number is expected to increase to 44,000 by 2025.
Those concerned about themselves or a loved one can contact the Alzheimer’s Association West Virginia Chapter at 304.343.2717 to schedule a care consultation and be connected to local resources. To reach the 24/7 Helpline, call 800.272.3900.