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Central New York is winter weather ready from October to May, but the challenge of dealing with it intensifies when you are caring for someone living with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia. The Alzheimer’s Association, Central New York Chapter offers these tips for care in cold weather.

Staying warm indoors

People living with Alzheimer’s disease may not be able to recognize or communicate if they are cold. Take the following steps to make sure they are safe and warm while inside:

  • Take simple steps like dressing in layers of clothing, using a blanket, or wearing socks and slippers.
  • Consider storing clothes that are inappropriate to season, such as shorts or t-shirts, to keep them out of sight and simplify outfit selection.
  • Set the thermostat to 68 degrees or higher. People on fixed incomes often want to lower their thermostat settings to save on heating costs.
  • Close off rooms not being used to save on heating costs. Close the vents and shut the doors in these rooms.
  • Never use kitchen ovens or gas stovetops to heat a room. These present fire, carbon monoxide and burn risks to everyone in the home.
  • If paying your heating bills is a concern, contact your local HEAP office for assistance.

Take caution when going outside

Cold air, snow and ice can impact mobility and health. A heavy wind can quickly lower body temperature. On cold and windy days, try to stay inside or in a warm place. If going outside is necessary, wear warm, dry clothing, and don’t stay ouside for extended periods.

  • Keep heads and necks covered by wearing a hat and scarf. Body heat is lost when these areas are uncovered.
  • Wear loose layers of clothing. The air between the layers helps to keep the body warm.
  • If precipitation is falling (snow, freezing rain, sleet), wear a waterproof coat or jacket.
  • Packed snow is just as slippery as ice. Walk alongside the person living with dementia and take slow, short steps. Wear low-heeled shoes or boots and don’t rely solely on canes and walkers, which may not gain traction on slippery surfaces.

Keep frostbite at bay

Frostbite occurs when skin is exposed to very cold temperatures. Noses, cheeks, fingers and toes are most commonly affected.

Frostnip or superficial frostbite are mild forms where skin becomes red and numb. As feeling returns to these areas, a person might feel sharp pain, but no long-term damage is done. Severe frostbite can have lasting detrimental effects, including amputation.

According to the National Weather Service, skin can develop frostbite in less than 30 minutes when exposed to zero-degree temperatures with a 15 MPH wind. Skin becomes thinner with aging, reducing the time for onset of frostbite. Also, dementia can impact one’s ability to perceive or communicate pain or discomfort.

Frostnip and superficial frostbite is treated with basic first aid, warming the area with blankets or warm (but not hot) compresses. If you suspect a more serious case, call 911 or visit a hospital emergency department, as time is of the essence.

Windchills mean protecting against hypothermia

Low air temperatures combined with frigid winds can increase one’s risk of hypothermia, the condition when a person’s body temperature drops below 95 degrees.

Prolonged exposure to windchills in the -10 to -27 degree range puts healthy adults at risk. Individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease may not have the ability to detect excessive cold.

Older adults can lose body heat much more quickly than when they were young. Being chilled can turn into a dangerous problem without the person’s knowledge, and he or she may develop hypothermia. Sometimes it is hard to tell if a person has hypothermia.

If you suspect that a person has hypothermia, call 911. Do not place them in a warm bath or shower. Instead, wrap them in warm blankets, extra layers of clothing and offer warm, non-caffeinated liquids.

Early warning signs of hypothermia

  • Cold feet and hands
  • Puffy or swollen face
  • Pale skin
  • Shivering
  • Slower than normal speech or slurring words
  • Acting sleepy
  • Being angry or confused

Later signs of hypothermia

  • Moving slowly, trouble walking, or being clumsy
  • Stiff and jerky arm or leg movements
  • Slow heartbeat
  • Slow, shallow breathing
  • Blacking out or losing consciousness

Other diseases exacerbate the cold

People living with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia may have other chronic illnesses, which may make it harder for the body to stay warm.

  • Thyroid problems can make it hard to maintain a normal body temperature.
  • Cardiopulminary issues like COPD and asthma are worsened by cold air; people with these conditions may find it harder to breath.
  • Diabetes can keep blood from flowing normally to provide warmth.
  • Parkinson’s disease and arthritis can make it hard to put on more clothes, use a blanket, or get out of the cold.