With cold weather in the forecast, it’s important that your loved one with dementia is kept safe and warm. Here’s where to start…

Cranking up the central heating and putting on an extra layer is all part and parcel of dealing with wintry weather in this country. But for someone with dementia, these kind of actions don’t always come naturally. They may struggle to do it on their own, or even forget how to operate their heating system. Meanwhile, their dressing habits could also be affected – either through a loss of mobility or an inability to work out what to put on that’s suitable.

That’s why it’s important that when freezing weather strikes, you’ve taken steps to ensure your loved one with dementia doesn’t feel the cold.

Keeping warm

Central heating
A comfortable living temperature for most people is between 18-20°C, but older people tend to feel the cold a lot more as their circulation declines, so you may need to set it slightly higher. If possible, set heating systems on an automatic timer so heat comes on at regular times during the day (and not just morning and evening as they’re likely to be at home for substantial periods during the day).

If they need help dressing, ensure they dress in lots of layers that are easy to remove (cardigans that can be zipped up or wrap-around shawls). Try putting extra items of clothin in easy-to-spot places such as over the back of a favourite chair, on the back of a bedroom door or near the front door so they can put them on easily. Leaving blankets and throws around the house is also a good idea.

A good quality winter coat and some sturdy boots with a good grip on the sole will be needed for when they head outdoors into cold or icy weather.

Food & drink
Encourage your loved one to make regular hot drinks as that will help to warm them up and ensure they stay hydrated. Likewise, at least one hot meal a day is recommended. If they can no longer cook for themselves, you could sign up for a meals-on-wheels dinner.

Tracking heating
Home monitoring systems can often track temperature in the home and will send an alert if it drops below a certain number. That way, if the heating packs up and the person with dementia doesn’t realise, or doesn’t know how to deal with it, a carer or family member will be made aware of it.

Signs of hypothermia

This is a low body temperature which can cause serious health and wellbeing problems, including memory loss, confusion, loss of judgement and reasoning (someone with hypothermia may decide to remove clothing despite being very cold), drowsiness, exhaustion and slurred speech. If not recognised and treated, hypothermia can be extremely serious, even causing death, so make sure you look out for the signs.

Worryingly, many of the signs of hypothermia could be misconstrued as dementia symptoms so make sure you consider their temperature if their symptoms suddenly take a turn for the worse.

Reducing the risk of falls

Winter shoes
Winter months bring with it the risk of falls, particularly if the ground is icy or lots of leaves have fallen and made the ground slimy and slippery. As explained above, ensure that your loved one has a decent pair of winter shoes that have a good grip to reduce the risk of falls.

Walking aids
If they’re unsteady and you’re worried about them slipping on icy ground, they may need a walking stick, walking frame, rollator or even be accompanied to ensure they stay safe.

Providing them with a pendant fall alarm is a good idea throughout the year if they’re prone to falls, but particularly so during winter.

Winter-proofing the exterior
If snow has fallen or it’s very icy, your loved one may need external pathways and drives shovelled or gritted to help clear a path so they can get out.

Other issues to think about

If your loved one with dementia doesn’t have central heating, they may have to rely on electric heaters. Just bear in mind that these should be checked regularly by an electrician to ensure they’re safe, and should not have items laid over them, such as towels, as that poses a fire risk. If the person with dementia is a little unsteady on their feet, make sure the heater is not somewhere that they may fall over it, or even use to grab onto to stay upright as they may burn themselves if the heater has got very hot.

If they have a gas fire make sure they have a carbon monoxide alarm in the house in case there is a leak, and if they use a wood burner or even an open fire, ensure they have enough fuel to keep them going. Don't forget, if the person you care for was born before 5 July 1952, they will be eligible for winter fuel payments.

Staying indoors too much
While it can be tempting to encourage them to stay indoors all day, doing so could also be to their detriment. Being outdoors, even if it’s just for 20 minutes each day will help boost mood – natural light is vital on this part so it should be in the middle of the day – so make sure they’re wrapped up warmly (see above) and if they can get out, encourage it.

Keeping in touch
The main thing to think about at this time of year is that you make regular contact with the person with dementia. Whether that’s through a carer or with phone calls or visits from yourself, it will help keep them safe and ensure they don’t become too lonely, which can also be an issue at this time.