Summertime Tips for Your Loved One Living with Dementia

San Diego County has already hit some record high temperatures earlier this June and we know the hottest months are still ahead. Each changing season brings with it some commonsense measures we should all take to heart. For summer we think of ways to stay cool and well hydrated. For a person living with memory loss, they may not be in tune to seasonal changes making them more susceptible to dehydration and consequently urinary tract infections and heat stroke, which can be painful, cause further disorientation, and ultimately be life-threatening, if left untreated. Here are five quick tips to help family caregivers prepare for the warm days ahead and best support those living with memory loss:

  1. Change Out and Limit the Clothing in Closets and Dressers.
    I can recall on a 95-degree day, my Mother coming out in her best winter coat, ready to go someplace. Trying to talk her out of it was really, really difficult. If your loved one with mild cognitive impairment is still selecting their outfit and dressing themselves, do both of you a favor. Take an hour or two to sort through their clothes each season. For summer, remove winter clothing, and heavy, long coats. Make cooler, summer clothing more visible. It also might be helpful if you limit the closet and dresser just to seven days of outfits. This can simplify getting dressed and ensure things go smoothly. You can also add in a few minutes to the morning dress routine. Use this time to put on some lotion—moisturizing hydrates the skin and is another way to help keep the body cool.
  2. Hydrate! Or use Hydration Alternatives.
    We all know that water is best, but with memory loss, it can be tricky to get your loved one to drink enough water. Dehydration is a serious issue and there are a number of great ways to combat it. Firstly, know that any liquid is helpful, so if they love coffee, tea, or juice go for it! Try adding some cucumber, lemon or strawberry slices to cold water for a little flavor. Electrolyte drinks are also a good alternative. Having soup for lunch or dinner might seem counter-intuitive for summer, but soup is extra liquid. Low fat yogurt or sugar-free Jello, natural ice cream and fruit popsicles are other ways to increase fluids. If your loved one likes to wander or potter about the house, consider getting a plastic to go cup with a lid and long-time use straw. Fill it up and hand it off to them a couple times per day.  

    How can you tell if they are dehydrated or have a Urinary Tract Infection?
    Particularly on the hottest days, if you are assisting with toileting, and your loved one isn’t urinating about every three hours, try to get more fluids going. If they seem to be in pain upon urination, have a feeling of urgency to go, but nothing comes out, their urine is very dark, has a pink or red tint, or is cloudy, it is time to see the doctor.
  3. Go to a Cool Zone site on the Hottest Days.
    In the summer, the County of San Diego designates Cool Zone sites, these are air-conditioned settings where seniors and others can gather. Here are some additional tips from the County of San Diego to help beat the heat:

    – Wear lightweight, loose-fitting, light-colored clothing. Light colors will reflect away some of the sun’s heat.
    – Slow down. Be your most physically active during the coolest part of the day, usually between 4-7 a.m. Pace yourself when engaging in physical activity.
    – Stay indoors as much as possible. If air conditioning is not being used, stay on the lowest floor. Keep shades down and blinds closed, but windows slightly open.
    – Electric fans do not cool the air, but they do help sweat evaporate, which cools your body.
    – Take a cool shower, bath or sponge bath.
    – Avoid using the oven.
    – Air out hot cars before getting into them.
    – Eat small meals and eat more often. Avoid foods that are high in protein, which increases metabolic heat.
    – Avoid using salt tablets unless directed to do so by a physician.
    – If you take diuretics, ask your physician about a lower dosage during hot weather.
    – If it is safe to do so, leave windows open at night. Open windows on two sides of your home to create cross ventilation.
  4. Exercise or Dance Indoors
    Daily exercise and nature walks is important for people living with dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. In the warmer months, consider doing some indoor exercises and stretching, or dance in the living room to music. This will allow you to help them keep a daily exercise routine, maintain fine and gross motor skills, and increase circulation and flexibility, all while still keeping cool!
  5. Plan Ahead for Outings  
    If you do need to go out, have a summer bag pre-packed and keep sun protection in mind. Include items like sunscreen, sun hats, a white long sleeve shirt, baby or intense moisturizing lotion, and extra bottles of water. You might also take along some wet wipes, especially if you freeze or refrigerate them, they can feel especially refreshing when you are out and about running errands on a hot summer day. And last but not least, consider a car date—take your loved one by a drive through window and order a milkshake for a fun and cool hydration treat.

Avoiding heat-related illness, dehydration, Urinary Tract Infections and discomfort gets more difficult as memory loss progresses and communication diminishes. These tips are compiled from Sunshine Care, a memory care community in sunny Poway, North San Diego County. With more than twenty-five years of experience in dementia and Alzheimer’s care, and over 100 indoor and outdoor activities offered monthly, they know how to plan for the heat.

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