If you’re supporting somebody living with dementia, here are 7 ways to help make sure they’re safe and comfortable during the colder, winter months.
Winter can be a particularly difficult time for somebody living with dementia. The bad weather and colder temperatures can bring specific challenges, and can sometimes make symptoms temporarily worse. What’s more, people with dementia aren’t always able to communicate the fact they’re cold – or they may not even recognise it themselves.
Here are 7 ways to help support somebody living with dementia in cold weather.
1. Make sure the person is dressed appropriately
People with dementia won’t always remember to dress appropriately for colder weather, so it’s important to help make sure they’re wearing the right clothes. Layers are key to keeping warm, and the best materials for maintaining body heat are cotton, wool, or fleecy fibres.
If you’re going outside, remember that a lot of heat is lost through the head and neck, so make sure the person has a hat and scarf on. Gloves are also important for keeping hands warm. If it’s icy or snowy, make sure the person is wearing appropriate footwear, such as non-skid boots.
2. Keep the room warm
Try to make sure any rooms that are occupied during the day are kept warm – it’s a good idea to aim for around 20 degrees Celsius
As well as putting the heating on, things like draught-proofing, thermal curtains and roof insulation can help maintain a consistent temperature. It’s also worth keeping a blanket within easy reach of a person with dementia, so they can grab it if they’re feeling chilly. At night, a hot water bottle or electric blanket can help keep the bed warm.
Remember, the government offers a Winter Fuel Payment for people born before 25 September 1957, offering between £250 and £600 to help with heating bills.
Cost of living support for people affected by dementia
You might be worried about how rising living costs will impact your finances if you live with dementia, or care for someone with the condition. There is help and support available.
3. Encourage regular movement
Keeping active can help to boost circulation and help keep someone with dementia warm. It’s a good idea to encourage the person to move around at least once an hour.
If walking is difficult or extreme weather conditions make it hard to go outside, simply getting the person with dementia to move their arms and legs, or wiggling their toes can be helpful.
There are more ideas for exercises on our physical activity page.
4. Make the most of natural daylight
Decreased sunlight can cause someone with dementia to feel increased anxiety, confusion, and even depression during the winter.
You can help by making sure they’re exposed to natural daylight when possible. Get outside when you can – a quick walk around the block or even just sitting outside in the garden for a few minutes can do wonders.
At home, make sure curtains are open during the day to let in as much light as possible. You could also position the furniture so that the person with dementia is sitting near a window. As natural light starts to fade, make sure lights and lamps are turned on.
5. Stick to a routine
A big change in routine can cause someone with dementia to become confused or agitated.
If you do have to make changes to someone’s routine in winter – for example, changing nap times or daily walks due to limited daylight – try to do them slowly and gradually.
6. Be careful in icy or snowy weather
Perception issues can make it difficult for someone with dementia to see icy patches on a pavement or understand that snow can make a surface extra slippery.
If you’re out for a walk in icy or snowy conditions, make sure you’re supporting the person with dementia carefully. Encourage them to take smaller steps and walk more slowly than usual.
7. Eat and drink regularly
Keeping warm uses up a lot of energy, and a warm house can increase the risk of dehydration. It’s important to make sure someone with dementia is eating regular meals and drinking enough fluid during the winter.
Snacking throughout the day can help keep energy levels up, and warm drinks can help keep them at a comfortable temperature. They should avoid drinking alcohol as it makes you feel warm, but actually draws important heat away from vital organs.
Do you have any other advice for supporting those living with dementia in cold weather? Leave us a comment below.
This article was first published in 2019 and updated in November 2022.
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