Because weather conditions — colder temperatures, snow and ice and early darkness — can be particularly challenging and stressful for the 215,000 dementia caregivers in the Hoosier State, the Alzheimer’s Association Greater Indiana Chapter is offering the following tips for keeping loved ones safe.
Be prepared. Winter storms can be dangerous. Check weather conditions regularly and have emergency plans in place. For example, if a snowstorm is predicted – consider rescheduling appointments that are not urgent. Tackle to-do lists in one trip to avoid making multiple trips.
Bundle up. If delaying trips is not an option, help the person living with Alzheimer’s dress warmly for winter weather conditions by wearing dry, loose-fitting layers and covering exposed skin. Make sure the person you are caring for wears clothing that covers as much exposed skin as possible. Mittens keep hands warmer than gloves and may be easier to help get on and off.
Prevent slips. Balance and mobility can be a challenge for a person living with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Assume all surfaces are slick and assist the person by taking smaller steps and slowing down so they can match gait and speed to a safer level.
Perception problems can make it difficult for the person living with Alzheimer’s or dementia to see ice on sidewalks or realize that ice is slippery or that snow is not a solid surface. Keep sidewalks and driveways clear to make walking outside safer for everyone. Utilize handrails or walk arm in arm when possible. Use indoor or garage parking and consider acquiring a disability parking permit placard enabling closer access to the door of buildings. Be sure to wear sturdy shoes to better assist the person living with dementia.
Make daylight last. Winter months bring decreased sunlight and shorter days. Visual perception can be a challenge for those living with Alzheimer’s or other dementias and can cause increased confusion or disorientation in dark or shadowy environments both inside and out.
Turn on indoor lights earlier or install timers, open curtains during daylight hours and consider installing motion detector lights to help illuminate walkways around the home as darkness may fall before arriving home from an outing.
Buddy up: It can be hard for caregivers to find time to complete simple tasks outside of the home. Caregivers will often find that friends and family are eager to help, so don’t hesitate to ask others for assistance with errands, grocery shopping or with snow and ice removal.
Prevent wandering. Wandering is one of the most frequent and challenging problems that caregivers face. In fact, it is estimated that 60% of people with dementia will wander and become lost at some point, and many do so repeatedly. This can be extremely dangerous in colder conditions.
While the term wandering may suggest aimless movement, individuals who wander have a destination and a purpose. For example, a person who wanders may have a personal need, such as going to the bathroom. But since people living with dementia can become disoriented even in a familiar place, this simple task can become a challenge. This might prompt a person to wander around the house, looking for the bathroom and maybe even open the front door.
To reduce the risk of wandering, ensure all basic needs are met, including toileting, nutrition and hydration. Consider reducing but not eliminating liquids up to two hours before bedtime so the person doesn’t have to use and find the bathroom during the night.
If a family member does wander and get lost, begin your search immediately. Start by searching the immediate vicinity, including less-traveled areas in your home. Outside the home, search the yard and nearby surroundings. Most wanderers are found within a half-mile of their homes or starting location.
If after 15 minutes the person is not located, call 911 to file a missing person’s report. Ensure a swift response by alerting police that the individual has Alzheimer’s disease and is a vulnerable adult.
More safety information and tips for preventing wandering are available at alz.org/safety. The Alzheimer’s Association also offers a free 24/7 helpline (800-272-3900) for anyone who needs additional support.