According to the Alzheimer’s Association, it’s estimated that more than 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s in 2021.
That means that nearly 6 million Americans are battling the daily effects of Alzheimer’s in these hot summer months.
Lisa Skinner, behavioral expert in the field of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, highlights the unique effects that hot summertime weather can have on a person battling Alzheimer’s:
“Older adults, and particularly individuals who suffer from Azheimer’s disease and dementia are at a much higher risk during hot weather than their younger counterparts,” Skinner said. “As we age there are many factors to be aware of. 1) Our bodies are less able to adjust to sudden temperature changes, 2) An elderly individual may have a chronic medical condition that affects their response to heat, and 3) Medications they are taking may not interact well with heat.”
So, why is it important for caregivers and loved ones to understand how certain summertime activities may require extra attention for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia?
“Caregivers will need to take extra precautions during the hot summer months if the person they are caring for has Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Due to their cognitive loss, they will probably not have the sensory ability to take the appropriate measures to protect themselves from intense heat. They may be unaware that they are overheated, dehydrated or getting sunburned,” Skinner said. “Outdoor activities such as picnics, walks, gardening, fruit picking, or a trip to the zoo present wonderful opportunities for creating special moments of joy for those with dementia; however, even brief exposure to the heat can prove to be extremely dangerous. It does not take long for a senior to suffer from heat exhaustion or heat stroke if they are exposed to the sun for too long.”
Here are Skinner’s top 5 tips to ensure their loved one with Alzheimer’s can safely engage in activities throughout the summer:
- Stay hydrated – Dehydration can occur very quickly during the summer. Make sure you offer water and/or fruit juices on a regular basis and be sure there is plenty of hydration available wherever you go. Encourage them to drink even if they act like they don’t want it. They might not always realize that they are thirsty and/or that they need to drink to stay hydrated. Avoid caffeine, alcohol and other diuretics.
- Be mindful of clothing choices – Make sure they are dressed in weather-appropriate attire. Have them wear loose, breathable clothing to help reduce sweating and help them stay cool. Have them wear a hat and sunglasses, and make sure you apply sunscreen every few hours, to protect any exposed skin.
- Keep cool and shaded outdoors – Look for shaded areas as much as possible if doing an outdoor activity. Try to keep the outdoor activity to a minimum during the peak summer hours, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Stay close and look for changes in their behavior and signs of distress. Have an exit strategy in place.
- Keep cool and shaded indoors – Use air conditioning or fans to keep their living space comfortable for them, and allow them to get sufficient rest or quiet time to help them deal with the heat.
- Exercise – Exercise is important to maintain for overall health; however, it should be limited to cool times of the day and cool areas of the home during the summer months.