Caring for Someone with Alzheimer’s in the Rising Summer Heat

Couple staying cool in the high summer temperatures

Extreme heat can have a significant impact on everyone’s safety. It can be especially stressful and confusing for individuals with Alzheimer’s and other dementia. Alzheimer’s disease causes a number of changes in the brain and body that may affect their safety, including changes in sensitivity to temperatures. As we begin to see summer temperatures rise in the Pacific Northwest, it’s important to take extra care of ourselves and our loved ones.

Today, there are more than 6 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease, including more than 120,000 in Washington State alone. 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. People living with Alzheimer’s can be vulnerable during these heat waves and it’s important to take extra precautions, as their ability to communicate discomfort may be impaired.

Tips to Prepare for a Heat Wave

The Alzheimer’s Association is offering important safety tips for caregivers and families facing Alzheimer’s and other dementias to prepare for the hot summer months ahead:

Make a plan. Make a plan to regularly check in on a person living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias during extreme heat. Arrange alternative plans for cooler spaces, if air conditioning is unavailable, and have them dress in loose, light clothing.

Pay attention at night. Keep people living with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias cool by using fans and keeping the air conditioning on. At night, low temperatures can still exceed 75 degrees with little fluctuation in humidity levels. This can make for difficult and exacerbated sleeping conditions, heightened anxiety, and increased agitation.

Prepare for behavioral challenges. Research shows that heat can increase agitation and confusion in people. Try to remove behavioral triggers by addressing the person’s physical needs related to the heat, then tending to their emotional needs.

Stay hydrated. Increased water intake is essential to maintaining good hydration and health during extreme heat. Know the signs of heat exhaustion to avoid heat stroke. Dehydration may be difficult to notice in a person living with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, as signs like increased fatigue, dry mouth, and headache may be difficult to detect. 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.

Stay indoors and out of the sun. Heat stroke and heat exhaustion may occur in extreme heat conditions but symptoms may be difficult to detect in people living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias. Keep individuals cool by using air conditioning at home or moving to a public place, such as a senior center or shopping mall. If you must go outside, be sure to dress appropriately, loose, light clothing, wear a hat, and apply sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 or higher.

Stay informed. Keep an eye on local weather forecasts. High temperatures are not the only cause for concern. Humidity and air pollution indices can cause breathing difficulties. The person should be monitored regularly and seek medical attention if symptoms arise of dehydration, heat exhaustion, or heat stroke.

Couple enjoying a warm summer day outside

We’re Here to Help – 24/7 Helpline

Whatever you and your loved ones are facing, the Alzheimer’s Association is here to help. Our free 24/7 helpline is staffed by specialists and master’s-level clinicians to offer confidential support and information to people living with dementia, caregivers, families, and the public. 

Call our helpline at 800.272.3900

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