For those with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, as well as for those over age 65 or with chronic illnesses, summer presents its own dangers and challenges. Those of us who care for individuals with these conditions need to know how to protect them from those “dog days” of the season. In the last few summer seasons, hot days seemed to be more frequent and extreme in nature. Putting protective measures in place will help those with Alzheimer’s, other forms of dementia, or other chronic illnesses get through summer heat waves comfortably and safely.
Why are Older Adults and Those with Alzheimer’s or Dementia So at Risk During Hot Weather?
In general, the heat, humidity, one’s general health, medications, hydration, and whether the environment is adequately cooled can all contribute to heat stress, also known as hyperthermia. The Centers for Disease Control cites three specific reasons persons over the age of 65 are more prone to heat stress than the general population:
- In general, older adults do not adjust as easily to the sudden changes in temperature.
- Older adults are more likely to have a chronic medical condition, and with that, their body has a different response to heat.
- The medications older adults and those with chronic illness take, as well as the combination of multiple medications, can affect the body’s ability to regulate its temperature. This includes its ability to generate perspiration – a cooling mechanism for the body. Medications that can increase one’s risk of heat-related stress include diuretics, sedatives, tranquilizers and some heart and blood pressure medications.
What is Hyperthermia?
Hyperthermia occurs when the body’s heat-regulating system fails to adequately keep a person cool. The forms of hyperthermia include heat syncope (fainting), heat cramps, heat stroke, and heat exhaustion. These heat stresses can happen to anyone, but older adults, and those with chronic illnesses, including dementia and Alzheimer’s, are especially at risk during hot weather. It is up to us, their caregivers, to put measures in place to protect them, and to monitor them during the worst of the hot weather.
When It is Hot or Humid – Protect and Monitor
Putting safety mechanisms in place should always be part of one’s plan of care for the hot weather months. When the heat and humidity hit, have the following protective measures in place for persons at risk for heat-related problems:
- Always ensure the air conditioning is functioning properly. Have the system checked by a professional before the hot weather starts in your area.
- Do not assume all is well – even if persons sound fine on the phone. If you do not live with them, physically check on them at least twice per day. More is better. Air conditioners can become over-stressed during these periods, so check to make sure the system is always functioning. If you do not live near them, have someone – a neighbor or a nearby friend - check on them and ensure the air conditioning is operating.
- If the individuals live alone or are alone during the day, consider enrolling them in a senior center program or adult day center. This will give them a cool, safe environment and a social setting, along with the benefit of staff to monitor them.
- Have the person remain in the comfort of an air conditioned home or building. This is not a time to sit outside, even in the shade.
- If at-risk individuals must go out, perhaps to a doctor’s appointment, try to keep it to the cooler early morning hours and limit the time outside as you are transporting them. Go from home to car to office, and back.
- Have them drink cool, non-alcoholic fluids.
- Provide cool showers, baths, or sponge baths.
- Have them wear lightweight clothing.
During a hot weather period, putting the above measures in place, along with increasing the level of monitoring you provide, can help protect at-risk individuals from the dangers of hot weather.
For additional information on identifying heat stress in older adults:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
This content was last updated on: January 16, 2020
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