Alzheimer’s and Hot Weather: What You Need to Know

Kathleen Allen, LCSW, C-ASWCM
  • Expert Advice
Published on:
Hot day in the city with a thermometer placed like a building.

For someone with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, and for those over age 65 or with chronic illnesses, summer presents its own dangers and challenges. Depending on where you live, you may see temperatures above 100 degrees for weeks at a time. This is risky for most people, regardless of age or health status, but presents additional concerns for people with chronic medical conditions. Putting protective measures in place will help your loved ones 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 at risk during hot weather? 

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 and Prevention cites three reasons adults 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.  

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 people 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 someone sounds fine on the phone. If you do not live together, physically check on your loved one at least twice per day. More is better. Air conditioners can become overstressed during these periods, so check to make sure the system is always functioning. If you do not live nearby, ask a neighbor or a nearby friend to check on them and ensure the air conditioning is operating. 

  • If your loved one lives alone or is alone during the day, consider enrolling them in a senior center program or adult day center. This will give them a cool, safe environment, social interactions, and staff to monitor them. 

  • Have your loved one 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.

About the author

Headshot of Kathleen Allen.

Kathleen Allen, LCSW, C-ASWCM

Kathleen Allen has been working with older adults and their families for over 20 years.

The information provided here is a public service of BrightFocus Foundation and should not in any way substitute for personalized advice of a qualified healthcare professional; it is not intended to constitute medical advice. Please consult your physician for personalized medical advice. BrightFocus Foundation does not endorse any medical product, therapy, or resources mentioned or listed in this article. All medications and supplements should only be taken under medical supervision. Also, although we make every effort to keep the medical information on our website updated, we cannot guarantee that the posted information reflects the most up-to-date research.     

These articles do not imply an endorsement of BrightFocus by the author or their institution, nor do they imply an endorsement of the institution or author by BrightFocus.    

Some of the content may be adapted from other sources, which will be clearly identified within the article.

Help find a cure

Donate to help end Alzheimer’s Disease

I would like to donate

Stay in touch

Receive Alzheimer’s research updates and inspiring stories