Winter Worries

Temperature extremes and inclement weather should be a major concern for any caregiver who is watching over an elderly person. The body’s ability to produce its own heat declines with age. In addition, those suffering from Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia bring on additional worries during a cold spell.

You’d think that you wouldn’t have to worry about loved ones venturing outside into freezing temperatures. After all, who would want to go face the elements and be anesthetized by the blistering cold? But the fact remains that any change in climate will cause an interruption in their daily routine bringing on heavier bouts of confusion. Suddenly you may find them moving from room to room searching for additional warmth. It only takes one step over a threshold to the outdoors and they could be on their way to being stricken by hypothermia.

Hypothermia comes from the lowering of the body temperature to 95 degrees Fahrenheit (F) or below. I know that my father’s body temperature would normally stay around 97 degrees (F), which put him almost halfway to being at risk.

Even in cool temperatures around 45 degrees (F) hypothermia can occur. All it takes is persons becoming chilled from being caught in the rain or even soaked from their own sweat.

Hypothermia is a medical emergency that requires immediate attention. Some indications will be: decreased heart and respiratory rates, slow reflexes, shivering and additional confusion. It may also cause the victim to suffer from oxygen deprivation taking away their ability to comprehend that they are in dire need of help and possibly preventing them from seeking shelter. They may likewise lose the ability to communicate how they actually feel.

If you’re not living with persons you’re caring for 24/7, explain to their neighbors what the situation is and ask them to check on them and call you immediately if they see them wandering away from home.

Even if they live in a care facility the concern about them wandering doesn’t go away. Every year there are many cases of patients dying after roaming away from adult living centers. The official medical term for this is “elopement.” Always look into each living establishment’s ability to cope with this before deciding to place your loved one there. Keep in mind that even if he or she never had a history of wandering, this doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen in the near future. An interesting diversion can be to hide a favorite “going out hat” or purse, suppressing the desire to leave.

Just try to make sure patients reside in comfortable surroundings. You don’t want them to become cold in the middle of the night, causing them to begin to roam around, possibly getting into trouble. These rules also apply in the summer months as well.

Remember, as the disease advances, communication skills will start to evaporate. You will have to use your better judgement making sure they’re always physically and mentally at ease.