Summer’s heat and humidity will descend on Central New York this week, marking the first heat wave of the season. Weather extremes, like high temperatures, have a significant impact on senior citizens, but for people living with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia, the danger can present a hazardous or fatal situation.
“Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias can impact a person’s ability to communicate,” said Katrina Skeval, chief program officer for the Alzheimer’s Association, Central New York Chapter. “Their ability to communication how they feel, if they are overheated or if they want water may be impaired. It’s important to take precautions and implement safeguards to ensure that everyone, the person living with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia and their caregivers, are protected during periods of extreme heat and humidity.”
The Alzheimer’s Association recommends taking the following steps in cases of extreme heat:
Make a plan:
Family and friends should make plans to check in on the person living with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia throughout the heat wave. If air conditioning is not available at their residence, they should find a way to keep the individual and their caregiver cool, at a private residence or public place.
Pay attention at night:
Just because the sun is down does not mean the heat has gone away. Low temperatures can still exceed 75 degrees with little fluctuation in humidity levels, making for difficult sleeping conditions, heightening anxiety and agitation, and exacerbating sleep issues. Keep the person cool by using fans and keeping the air conditioning on, if available.
Prepare for behavioral challenges:
Studies have shown that heat can increase agitation in people. “When people are hot, it makes them cranky,” Skeval said. “Heat can compound an already challenging caregiving situation when the individual living with Alzheimer’s or another dementia is already experiencing behavioral issues such as outbursts, aggression or anxiety.”
Try to remove behavioral triggers by addressing the individual’s physical needs related to the heat, then tending to their emotional needs. The Alzheimer’s Association offers information on Alzheimer’s- and dementia-related behaviors at its website.
Dehydration may be difficult to notice in a person living with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia, as signs like increased fatigue, dry mouth, headache, and/or decreased urinary output, may be difficult to detect. Increased water intake is essential to maintaining good hydration and health during a heat wave. “Avoiding caffeine is important,” Skeval said. “Caffeine acts as a diuretic, robbing the body of important fluids.”
“People taking diuretics, sedatives, or certain heart medication may not sweat as much as others, but this does not mean that they are not hot,” Skeval said.
Stay indoors and out of the sun:
Heat stroke and heat exhaustion are common in senior citizens and symptoms may be difficult to detect in individuals living with a form of dementia. Keep cool by using air conditioning in your home or at a public place, such as a senior center or shopping mall. Contact your local Area Agency on Aging for information about cooling centers in your area.
If you must go outside, be sure to wear a hat or other head covering and use sunscreen with a SPF rating of at least 30.
Keep an eye on local weather forecasts on television or online, as temperature is not the only concern. “It goes without saying that people living with a form of dementia that also use oxygen may have difficulty breathing when the humidity is high, as the air pollution ratings tend to be elevated during that time,” Skeval said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heat stroke
occurs when the body is overwhelmed by heat and unable to control its temperature, causing it to increase above 103 degrees Fahrenheit. Symptoms of heat stroke include: strong rapid pulse, dry or flushed skin, dizziness, nausea, confusion or loss of consciousness. If untreated, heat stroke can lead to death. If you suspect heat stroke in any person, regardless of age or medical condition, call 911.
is a milder heat-related illness caused by exposure to high temperatures and humidity. Without treatment, it can lead to heat stroke. According to the CDC, symptoms include heavy sweating, cold, clammy skin, faintness, dizziness, weak and rapid pulse, muscle cramping, nausea and headache. It can be treated by moving to a cooler place, loosening one’s clothes, sponging the person with cool water or sipping cool water. The person should be monitored for symptoms of heat stroke and medical attention should be sought if symptoms last for more than one hour or if they are vomiting.
The Alzheimer's Association is the world's leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer care, support and research. Our mission is to eliminate Alzheimer's disease through the advancement of research; to provide and enhance care and support for all affected; and to reduce the risk of dementia through the promotion of brain health. Our vision is a world without Alzheimer's. For more information, visit www.alz.org.