Alzheimer’s Foundation warns heat can be deadly for dementia patients

Extreme heat precautions for families facing dementia
Extreme heat precautions for families facing dementia(KOLO)
Published: Jul. 21, 2022 at 9:38 AM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - The Alzheimer’s Foundation has warned that extreme heat can be deadly for patients with dementia-related illnesses.

With a heat wave across the U.S. bringing dangerously high temperatures for tens of millions of residents, the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America says it has provided important tips to help keep those affected by dementia-related illnesses safe.

“The dangers of extreme temperatures, which can cause heat stroke in a manner of minutes, are magnified for someone living with dementia. Dementia-related illnesses can impair a person’s ability to know when they are thirsty or in danger of overheating, communicate basic needs, and remember heat safety protocols,” said Jennifer Reeder, LCSW, SIFI, AFA’s Director of Educational and Social Services. “Taking a few simple precautions can go a long way toward keeping your loved one safe.”

The AFA noted that helping dementia patients stay hydrated is key. It said Alzheimer’s disease and other memory-loss-related illnesses can reduce a person’s ability to know when they are thirsty, which makes it crucial for caregivers to monitor and encourage them to drink fluids frequently. Alcohol and caffeinated beverages should be avoided as they may contribute to dehydration.

The AFA also indicated that caregivers should watch for hyperthermia. It said dementia-related illnesses can impair a person’s ability to communicate or recognize basic needs so caregivers cannot completely depend on them expressing if they are too hot or too cold.

According to the Foundation, hyperthermia is an abnormally high body temperature caused by the inability to regulate heat from the environment. It said seniors and those with chronic medical conditions are most at risk. Hyperthermia can cause heat stroke, which can be deadly, so caretakers should watch for excessive sweating, exhaustion, flushed or red skin, muscle cramps, a fast pulse, headaches, dizziness and nausea.

The AFA warned caretakers to watch out for wandering patients as well. It said wandering is a common behavior among those with dementia-related illnesses and can easily become disoriented. It is even more dangerous with extreme heat, where hyperthermia can develop in a matter of minutes. It said wandering can happen when a person has limited stimulation or basic needs are not being met.

The Foundation also noted that caretakers should look for signs that something is wrong, such as hit, dry skin, a rapid pulse, dizziness or sudden changes in mental status. It said immediate action should be taken when patients suffer from the heat. Resting in an air-conditioned room, removing clothes, applying cold compresses and drinking fluids can help rapidly cool the body. If the person faints, shows excessive confusion or becomes unconscious, it said to immediately call 911.

The AFA said it is important to know where to cool down as many cities open cooling centers where residents who do not have air conditioning can go to stay cool. These can include senior centers, libraries, community centers and other city buildings. Caretakers should also plan ahead as blackouts and other power failures can sometimes happen during heat waves.

Lastly, the Foundation said caretakers should have a long-distance plan if necessary. If patients do not live with or near a loved one, it should be arranged for someone to check on them. The caretaker should be informed of emergency contacts and where important medical information can be found.

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