The year’s final months are often colder and darker, which can make anyone feel gloomy or restless. But they significantly impact people with memory loss. If your loved one has dementia or Alzheimer’s, there are steps you can take to keep them safe throughout winter.
Lower Cognitive Function in Winter
A recent study suggests the change of seasons impacts brain function. Memory and thinking tests were administered during all four seasons. Participants included people with and without Alzheimer’s.
The results indicate that cognitive function declines in winter and early spring. It’s believed that confusion created by the time change and decreased daylight hours contributes to reduced cognitive abilities.
Understanding Seasonal Affective Disorder
Cloudy days, limited sunlight and lower amounts of Vitamin D may put seniors in an emotional rut.
The anxiety associated with reduced daylight often contributes to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), also known as seasonal depression. That condition is defined as a mood disorder associated with seasonal changes. Sundowning also exacerbates SAD because symptoms like agitation and aggression start sooner and last longer when the sun sets earlier.
It’s important to make the most of natural daylight. Open curtains to allow the sun’s rays and warmth into your senior’s home. You can also purchase light therapy lamps to treat SAD. You can purchase light therapy lamps online and at certain retail stores.
At Kemper House Worthington, we use the HumanCharger to administer effective, low-cost light therapy to residents with the winter blues.
Managing Fall Risks
Winter brings snow and ice, which increase your loved one’s chance of falls and injuries. People with dementia often experience vision blurring, loss of peripheral sight and problems with depth perception. Winter’s low light and visibility will compound those impairments.
If your senior lives independently, shovel and salt their walkways and steps for them. Non-skid shoes or boots will also increase traction when they go outside.
Fending off Hypothermia
If your loved one has dementia or Alzheimer’s, they may not notice temperature changes quickly, negatively affecting their body’s ability to regulate its temperature.
Here are some tips to keep your parent warm during winter:
- Encourage your mom to dress in several light layers. The air that circulates between her clothes will raise her body temperature.
- Set the thermostat to 68° Fahrenheit to keep your dad’s house warm without drastically increasing his heating bill.
- Shut air vents and doors of unoccupied rooms to increase the temperature in your mom’s living room and bedroom.
- Draft-proof your dad’s home by closing the curtains in the evening and placing rolled towels at the base of exterior doors.
- Don’t use electric space heaters and blankets. People with dementia can forget to turn them off, creating a fire hazard.
- Ensure your mom wears a hat, scarf and gloves. Covering her head, face and neck will help her body retain heat.
- Monitor the forecast and advise your dad to remain indoors if the temperature is too low.
- Keep outdoor excursions short.
- Know the signs of hypothermia, including shivering, exhaustion, slurred speech, reduced motor skills and confusion.
If your parent experiences sundowning, they may also be prone to wandering at night. That can be very dangerous in the winter when temperatures drop below freezing.
Dressing in bright, reflective clothes will make your loved one more noticeable, especially in the dark. Attaching identification to their clothes or getting them an ID bracelet will provide contact and medical information to anyone who finds them if they get lost.
If you don’t live close to your mom or dad, create a plan with their neighbors. Set up a check-in schedule in the evenings to monitor your parents and keep them safe. You may also consider installing cameras or door sensors that send mobile alerts when your mom or dad exits their house. Some of those devices allow you to send verbal warnings to your parent for an extra level of safety.