Winter can be challenging for a lot of us. One day it’s above freezing, the next day the wind on the skin makes it feel like the arctic.
Even though the days are getting longer, it’s still dark when a lot of us get up, and it’s dark before we’re done with dinner.
Now imagine dealing with all of that without being able to process that it’s cold enough to require an extra layer of clothing or that gloves are a necessity.
Then imagine that the darkness causes confusion, making it difficult to understand the time of day it is and one’s location.
Winter can be particularly challenging for the more than 6 million Americans who deal with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. That means it’s also challenging for the more than 11 million people like me who care for them. In Illinois alone, there are 230,000 people with Alzheimer’s or dementia and 381,000 caregivers, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
Caregivers often have to be on high alert. I found that out last winter when Tony still was trying to help me with shoveling snow.
Tony, who has early onset Alzheimer’s disease, couldn’t tell me when he was getting cold. He would take off his gloves when they would get in his way, leaving his fingers exposed to the elements.
I spent a lot more time watching Tony to make sure he was OK than I did dealing with the shoveling that still had to be done. Efficient it was not.
The Illinois chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association recently sent out a news release that provides a good reminder to all of us who are caring for those with dementia.
“When cold weather sets in, it’s especially important to be aware of how memory loss can impact people’s decision making,” Melissa Tucker, director of family services for the Alzheimer’s Association Illinois chapter, said in the release. “Be aware that a person living with memory loss may not think to put on gloves or a hat, so the care partner will need to keep an eye on this and help the person to dress appropriately for the weather.”
The Alzheimer’s Association also pointed out that those who have dementia can be prone to wandering off. This can be especially dangerous when the weather is extremely cold. The association offers tips to prevent wandering on its website at alz.org. There’s also a 24/7 helpline at 1-800-272-3900.
The Illinois chapter also offers some safety tips for dealing with the winter months as a caregiver for those with dementia.
Be prepared. Winter storms can be dangerous. Have emergency plans in place and keep an eye on the weather conditions.
Bundle up. Help the person living with Alzheimer’s to dress warmly by wearing dry, loose-fitting layers and covering exposed skin.
Prevent slips. Assume all surfaces are slick and take safety measures. Assist the person living with dementia by having them wear sturdy shoes and walking slowly when outside.
Buddy up. Ask family, friends and neighbors for help with shoveling, grocery shopping and other errands. An Alzheimer’s Association survey found that 84% of caregivers would like more support providing care for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia, especially from their family.
Of course, these are great tips for anyone who is a caregiver and anyone who is looking after an elderly person, whether friend or family member.
We all need to make it a practice to look after those in our neighborhood. I can attest to how grateful I am for my terrific neighbors who help clear the snow from our driveway and sidewalk, so I don’t have to.
That’s also one more way that I can continue to keep Tony safe.
• Joan Oliver is the former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.