Looking after a person with dementia in cold weather

January 20, 2021

With temperatures decreasing and Covid-19 still present in communities, families with dementia may be facing heightened feelings of social isolation, worry and stress.

Due to communication difficulties, a person with dementia may not be able to explain how they’re feeling during the cold, and what they need to maintain health and warmth. They could forget to wear appropriate clothing, such as fleeces and hats or even forget to turn on the heating.

That’s why it’s important to be prepared. We’ve put together the below to help you watch out for certain behaviours, and to manage them as best as you can.

An elderly couple walk in a snowy forest

Indoor activities and stimulation

Cold weather can bring increased feelings of isolation due to long periods indoors. You may like to consider playing games and puzzles to stimulate yourself and the person with dementia. This is essential in the absence of support services in the community.

Hot drinks, regular meals and snacking throughout the day can help to maintain energy levels. You can also have a look at doing some indoor exercises, which can help to keep you warm and healthy. For some advice on the different types of exercises you can do, please see our meaningful activities blog here.

Not living with the person with dementia, or checking up on someone who is on their own

Just checking to see if someone is ok can have a massive impact. You can always ask them if they need supplies like food, medication and warm clothing.

If you are unable to visit the family personally due to social distancing or living too far apart, then you can give the family or person with dementia a ring. Routine can be important to people with dementia and their family carers, so try and contact them at the same time, each time. You may like to arrange a time in advance if the person with dementia is calmer at certain times of the day.

Order some Vitamin D

We know that during the winter in particular, it may be challenging to get the right amount of sunlight, and the Vitamin D coming from this, to maintain healthy bones and to bolster the immune system. There are a range of products available from supermarkets, pharmacies and other retailers with this vital supplement. For example, the government in England is providing Vitamin D supplements to people who are on the clinically vulnerable list and within care homes. For more information on this, please see here.

Checking temperature

Cold temperatures can increase confusion – so if you ask someone if they feel cold, you may not get an accurate response and you may have to physically check their temperature. You can do this with a thermometer, or, with their permission, gently place your hand down the back of their neck. Remember, some people may have cold hands and feet, but their core temperature can be fine, so don’t rely on just checking hands and feet.

Try to keep your main living room at 18–21°C (64–70°F) at least, or warmer if you prefer. The rest of the house can be at 16°C (61°F), but again do what is comfortable for you and the person with dementia. If you can’t heat all the rooms you use, heat the living room during the day and the bedroom just before you go to sleep. Then when in bed, use either a hot water bottle or an electric blanket.

Wear appropriate clothing

Wearing lots of thin layers is key to keeping warm in cold weather. The best materials for maintaining body heat are cotton, wool or fleecy fibres. As a lot of heat is lost through the head and neck, if you’re indoors and you’re feeling chilly then you should wear a hat and scarf.

Sometimes a person with dementia can get confused around which clothing to wear. They may wear cool and loose fitting clothing and refuse to change. This can result in a significant drop in body temperature.

Occasionally people with dementia like to have routine, which can include wanting to wear the same clothing all the time. To maintain good standards of hygiene and to ensure that the person with dementia is well protected against the cold, you can buy multiple sets of the same clothing, and the dirty clothing can then be removed before the person goes to bed at night. The next morning, you can lay out a clean set of warm clothing ready for them to wear.

Look out for signs of hypothermia

As dementia can lead to reduced cognitive ability and awareness, it may be challenging for the person diagnosed to express and feel how cold they are. This can in some circumstances lead to hypothermia which is a medical emergency. Signs of hypothermia may include: cold skin and shivering (or absence of shivering if hypothermia is advanced), confusion and slurred speech as well as sleepiness and shallow breathing.

If you think someone may be suffering the effects of hypothermia, then call 999 whilst trying to gently warm them. All of the preceding advice can help to protect the person with dementia from hypothermia.

Book yourself in for a flu vaccine

Contracting the flu can be one of the primary reasons why a person with dementia is admitted into hospital over Christmas. This can increase the distress faced by family members so a flu vaccine is very important, particularly with Covid-19 still affecting communities. Certain people in the community will be eligible for a free flu vaccine, usually if classed as a vulnerable person. Double check what is happening in your local area, but people will still be able to pay for one at their GP surgery and select supermarkets.

GP surgeries and pharmacies will ensure that social distancing is maintained when you are having your vaccine, but you can always ring them up in advance to feel more confident about how things will work on the day.

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