Cold Weather & Dementia

It is winter . . . really winter. . . with temperatures in the teens and 20s, heavy gloves, warm soup, and a genuine reluctance to be outside if we are not skating or skiing. Still, most of us know how to navigate and even enjoy a crisp cold day.

But what about a person who has a dementia? Do you know the dangers of cold weather for older adults and individuals with dementia?

During cold weather, you may find folks

Living in cold homes without realizing the danger of being cold

Venturing outside without warm clothing or protection from wet weather

Experiencing low body temperatures as a result of taking medications or drinking alcohol

Falling on ice and becoming disoriented in snow falls

The overall concern is hypothermia, which is a condition in which the body temperature is dangerously low. Hypothermia can cause confusion, disorientation, problems with communication and behavior, and physical impairment. Hypothermia may lead to death.

Caregivers can help by being sure that older adults and individuals with dementia stay in warm environments, eat well to ensure healthy body “insulation,” and avoid activities that might lead to hypothermia.

We can also help individuals with a dementia enjoy lovely winter days. As always, care giving involves sharing positive experiences with an extra layer of safety. For our cold crisp days, let’s help our loved ones with cozy wool scarves, bowls of warm soups . . . and hand-in-hand ventures to see beautiful snow falls.

 

For a brief overview of ways to avoid and treat hypothermia, see the Alzheimer’s & Dementia Weekly article, Hypothermia.

 

Should Older Adults Write New Year’s Resolutions?

When we were children, we couldn’t wait to stay up until the ball dropped in Times Square, the confetti was tossed, someone sang Auld Lang Syne … or whatever meant that we didn’t have to be in bed at the usual time.

As young adults, we looked for parties and threw the confetti ourselves. We were mature enough, we believed, to take on the world. We wrote New Year’s resolutions that we took seriously, for a couple of days at least.

And then in middle age, we may have been a bit more subdued, but noting the year and thinking about the future were still important for December 31.

So, what about older adults? Have they seen it all? Are they “over” celebrating? Should they have a special early afternoon party and plan to be in bed at the usual pre-midnight time?

I suggest, rather emphatically, no!

As long as older adults are physically and cognitively healthy, celebrating and writing resolutions can still have real meaning for them. Planning new activities, engagement with family and friends, volunteering or working, refurnishing their houses or moving to new communities . . . new life adventures . . . may be some of their resolutions for the new year.

As C. S. Lewis wrote

Are you an older adult? Do you live with or care for an older adult?

I invite you to take time to celebrate the new year and write your resolutions for 2019!

If you would like suggestions for New Year’s Eve celebrations and making resolutions, look at New Year’s Eve & Resolutions (Home Care Assistance) and New Year’s Eve Party Ideas (Medicare).

Celebrating Holidays When a Loved One Has a Dementia

The winter holidays are here! Thanksgiving with turkey and the trimmings, conversation, football on TV, and family games. Kwanza, Christmas and Chanukah are next. What warm memories of these celebrations many of us have and how much we would like to participate in all our usual traditions.

But . . .

We are caring for a loved one who has a dementia. Everyone is adjusting to new ways of living our daily lives. We don’t have energy for all our usual preparations. And some of the old traditions aren’t appropriate for a person who has a dementia.

How can we have our special holidays? Here are a few quick tips.

  • Adjust your celebrations.
    • Modify and simplify your traditions, keeping some of the special memories.
    • Involve your loved one in holiday activities that are comfortable and safe for him or her.
  • Communicate with family and friends.
    • Talk about your loved one’s strengths and changes.
    • Plan new traditions together.
  • Take care of yourself.
    • Ask for help with holiday tasks and caring for your loved one.
    • Arrange for respite time . . . quiet time, pampering, exercise . . . for you.

Holidays can still be special for you, your family and friends.

Enjoy the possible. Enjoy the moment. Enjoy new traditions.

For more about holiday celebrations, read the National Institute on Aging article, “Holiday Hints for Alzheimer’s Caregivers” at https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/holiday-hints-alzheimers-caregivers.

 

 

 

Caregiving: Can You Make Medical Decisions?

Who Can Make Medical Decisions in a World with HIPPA?

American’s medical records are protected by the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Neither friends nor relatives have access to our medical information without the express consent of the patient.

This is usually comforting in a world with so much data and so much communication!

But what happens when a senior needs help with his or her medical decisions? What happens if there are end of life decisions to be made?

Three legal documents give others insight and permissions on behalf of a senior.

  • HIPAA authorization gives permission to the doctor to share medical information with the person(s) that the patient names.
  • An advance health care directive (living will) lists/describes an individual’s preferences about medical care, including whether certain life-sustaining treatments should be administered.
  • A medical power of attorney (health care proxy, durable power of attorney for health care) identifies someone who can act on behalf of the individual if needed.

It is not always comfortable to think about illness and end of life decisions. However, there are many resources available that can help. Attorneys are skilled at advising and preparing the documents. Information and forms are available in print and on the Internet, as well.

For a brief description of medical powers of attorney and living wills, look at WebMD.com’s Advance Directives.

 

Is This Dementia? Memory Changes

He isn’t remembering well. Does He Have a Dementia?

How often has a loved one forgotten something and, for a split second, you said to yourself, “Why didn’t he remember that? What does this mean? Should I be concerned?” Here are guidelines to help you.

The car keys are missing. Is he losing his memory?!

  • We all put our house keys down and forget where we put them.
  • We forget a name even though we know the person.
  • We go to the supermarket for eggs and come home with coffee, bread . . . but no eggs.

Are these signs of dementia?

Everyone forgets from time to time. As we get older, we forget more often.

However, it is not a sign of dementia if we can remember the keys, name and eggs after a little while and our forgetting doesn’t stop us from carrying out our normal activities.

Some forgetting is normal. Taking a little longer to remember as we get older is also normal.

Memory changes that interfere with independent activities – our work, social life, conversations, reading and learning – may indicate a health problem that should be checked by a doctor.

These memory changes may include

  • Not being able to find the right words to express something, not following a conversation, or having difficult completing a thought
  • Forgetting names of people and places
  • Being confused about where one is, not knowing how to get to a familiar location, or not being able to retrace one’s steps
  • Having difficulty recalling the information needed to make appropriate judgements and decisions
  • Not recalling where an item has been placed even with time and effort

HelpGuide.org offers a quick look at how to figure out what forgetting the car keys might indicate at What Does My Forgetting Mean?