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How to Protect a Loved One With Dementia During a Heat Wave

HealthDay News
by -- Robert Preidt
Updated: Aug 19th 2019

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MONDAY, Aug. 19, 2019 (HealthDay News) -- Heat waves can pose a serious risk to people with Alzheimer's disease, so their families should know how to keep them safe, advocates say.

Extreme heat is "dangerous for everyone, but especially for someone with Alzheimer's disease, who may be unable to spot the warning signs of trouble or know how to get help," said Charles Fuschillo Jr., president and CEO of the Alzheimer's Foundation of America (AFA).

"Caregivers need to be proactive and prepared to protect their loved ones. Taking a few simple steps will go a long way," he said in a foundation news release.

Alzheimer's and other types of dementia can diminish a person's ability to know when they are thirsty, so it's crucial for caregivers to watch them and encourage them to drink often. Don't let them have alcohol and caffeinated beverages, which may contribute to dehydration.

Seniors and people with chronic medical conditions are at high risk for hyperthermia, an abnormally high body temperature caused by an inability to regulate heat from the environment.

A life-threatening form of hyperthermia is heat stroke, a dangerous elevation in body temperature. Watch Alzheimer's patients for warning signs such as excessive sweating, exhaustion, flushed or red skin, muscle cramps, fast pulse, headaches, dizziness and nausea.

If these symptoms develop, take immediate action. Get the person to a cooler location (one with air conditioning, if possible), remove clothing, apply cold compresses, and give fluids. If the person faints, develops excessive confusion or becomes unconscious, consider this a medical emergency and call 911.

Wandering is a common behavior in people with Alzheimer's disease. It can be dangerous anytime but especially so in extreme heat.

Ensure the person's basic needs (water, food, using the restroom, etc.) are being met, as wandering often stems from an unmet need.

Have a plan of action in case the person does wander off. Use a permanent marker or sew identification onto their clothes with your contact information. Have a recent photo and medical information, as well as details about familiar destinations they used to frequent, to assist emergency responders.

During heat waves, many communities open "cooling centers" for people who lack air conditioning at home. If your person with Alzheimer's does not have air conditioning at home, find the locations of nearby cooling centers.

Blackouts and other power failures sometimes occur during heat waves, so make sure that cellphones, tablets and other electrical devices are fully charged. Have flashlights easily accessible, along with quick access to emergency contact numbers for local utility providers, as well as police and fire departments.

If you don't live close by, arrange for someone who lives near the person with Alzheimer's to check on them. Provide that person with emergency contacts and the location of important medical information.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Aging has more about Alzheimer's disease.