As the temperature finally dips into seasonal ranges for winter, those caring for someone with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia should all be on notice that snow, extreme temperatures and early darkness present special problems.
General Safety Tips
A loved one with Alzheimer’s won’t necessarily dress appropriately for colder weather. Cover as much exposed skin as possible and provide several layers of lightweight clothing for easy movement, especially if plans include time outside. A hat is important since so much body heat escapes from an uncovered head and don’t forget to add a scarf to cover up an exposed neck. Mittens keep hands warmer than gloves and may be easier to help get on and off. Clips designed for skiers can help keep track of gloves or mittens that are otherwise easily misplaced or lost.
Sundowning is a term that refers to increased anxiety, confusion and even increased sleepiness due to the decreased sunlight in the winter months. Visual perception is already an issue for many people with Alzheimer’s and can cause increased confusion or disorientation in dark or shadowy environments both inside and out. Turn lights on earlier, open curtains during daylight hours and add bulbs that simulate sunlight. Install motion detector lights to help illuminate walkways around the home as darkness may fall before arriving home from an outing. Dressing in light or bright colors or adding reflective material to clothing will help a loved one be more easily seen.
To avoid slips and falls, make sure boots are non-skid. There are many boot styles on the market that use Velcro instead of laces to allow the person with dementia some success with dressing themselves. Try separate “tracks” that attach to the soles for added traction on icy surfaces. You can also add a sharp tip to canes for that extra grip on winter days. This device is available at home health care stores.
Assume ALL surfaces are slick and by taking smaller steps and slowing down, the person with Alzheimer’s can match gait and speed to a safer level.
o Perception problems can make it difficult for the person with Alzheimer’s to see ice on the sidewalk or realize that ice is slippery or that snow is not a solid surface.
o Keep sidewalks and driveways clear of ice and snow to make walking outside safe for everyone, but do not overuse ice melt products which can reduce traction.
o Use indoor or garage parking whenever possible.
o Especially on stairs or slick spots, insist on handrail use and walk arm in arm when possible.
o Acquire and use a State issued Handicapped placard enabling closer access to the door of buildings.
Medic Alert + Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return® and Comfort Zone® offer safety for wandering. Wandering is one of the most frequent and challenging problems that caregivers face. About 67 % of people with dementia will wander and become lost during the course of the disease, and most will do so repeatedly.
Wandering may be triggered when a person with Alzheimer's disease:
• Tries to search for familiar objects, surroundings or people when they no longer recognize their environment.
• Tries to fulfill former obligations, such as going to work or taking care of a child.
• Reacts to the side effects of medication that cause restlessness and confusion.
• Tries to escape stress caused by noise, crowds or isolation.
• Is not getting enough physical activity.
• Is fearful of unfamiliar sights, sounds or hallucinations.
• Searches for something specific such as food, drink, the bathroom or companionship.
Never assume that being at home with someone who has Alzheimer’s makes wandering less of an issue. It only takes a moment for someone to leave the house, and the confusion and disorientation that accompany the disease means a friend or loved one can get hopelessly lost in a matter of minutes. Having some type of tracking device can provide peace of mind that a loved one could be located within a short period of time after becoming separated. Medic Alert + Safe Return® and Comfort Zone® are two programs that protect people diagnosed with dementia in case of a medical emergency or a wandering incident.
It is not uncommon for a wanderer to require medical attention following an incident. Through the use of a 1-800 number, MedicAlert + Safe Return provides the member’s personal health record including medical conditions, medications and allergies and can be updated 24-hours a day through a private online account or by calling the toll free number during business hours.
When someone enrolled in the program wanders, the MedicAlert® + Safe Return® hotline activates the resources of law enforcement, medical professionals and the local Alzheimer’s Association chapter staff to assist the member when an incident – either wandering or a medical emergency – occurs.
Comfort Zone® is a comprehensive web-based location management service. Families can remotely monitor a person with Alzheimer’s by receiving automated alerts throughout the day and night when a person has travelled beyond a preset zone. The alert can be received in any location, even notifying family members or caregivers in another state. This program is particularly useful for those in the early stages who want to maintain as much independence as possible for as long as they are able. Comfort Zone uses a location-based mapping service, or LBS . This term refers to a wide range of services that provide information about a person's (or object's) location very similar to a GPS device for turn-by-turn driving directions or tracking packages online. A person with Alzheimer's wears or carries a locator device (such as a cell phone) or mounts one in his or her car.
To learn more about MedicAlert® + Safe Return® and Comfort Zone®, contact the Alzheimer’s Association Colorado Chapter at 800-272-3900.