Extreme heat can be dangerous for everyone, but especially for older adults with dementia who may not be able to communicate their needs or recognize symptoms of heat illness. As a caregiver, there are several ways you can help support a person with dementia stay cool, hydrated and safe during hot summer weather.
1. Keep Their Living Space Cool
One of the most important things you can do is make sure the person’s home is properly cooled. Use air conditioning and fans to maintain a comfortable temperature around 75-80°F.
Close blinds and curtains during the hottest parts of the day to block sunlight and retain cooler air inside. At night, open windows to let in cool breezes if it’s safe to do so. Place a thermometer in rooms they use frequently so you can monitor the temperature.
If they don’t have air conditioning, take them to a cooling center, mall or other public place with A/C several times a week. Or arrange for them to stay with a friend or relative who has adequate cooling in their home.
You may need to remind the person to use the AC or fans if they forget. Make sure all cooling equipment is functioning properly and set at an appropriate temperature.
2. Plan Activities for Cooler Parts of the Day
Schedule any appointments, outings or activities for the morning and evening hours when temperatures are lower. Limit time spent outdoors during midday when the sun is strongest.
If you take them out during hot afternoons, choose shady areas and make sure they wear sunscreen, light long-sleeved shirts and hats when possible. Seek air-conditioned places rather than outdoors. For example, go to a museum rather than the park.
At home, encourage quieter activities like reading, puzzles or crafts which raise their body temperature less than more strenuous physical activities. Move exercise routines to early morning or late evening to avoid heat exhaustion.
3. Keep Them Hydrated
Dehydration is a major risk for seniors during extreme heat. The person may not recognize thirst signals as readily due to dementia. Gently remind and encourage them to drink fluids frequently throughout hot days. Have water bottles, cups and glasses readily available to prompt drinking.
Offer small sips of cold water, fruit juice or decaffeinated iced tea. Try serving popsicles, gelatin cubes, or frozen fruit which also provide hydration. Limit sugary drinks and alcohol which can lead to faster dehydration.
Watch for signs of dehydration including increased confusion, headache, dizziness and dark urine. Call a doctor immediately if these symptoms don’t improve with increased fluids.
4. Dress Them Appropriately
Encourage lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothes to allow air circulation while blocking sun exposure. Materials like cotton or linen are cooler. Avoid darker colors which absorb and retain heat.
If they resist changing clothes due to dementia, try offering two appropriate options and allowing them to choose rather than insisting. Provide gentle reminders that lighter clothes will be cooler as the weather gets warmer.
Be aware of any medical conditions that cause them to be more sensitive to heat or sun exposure. For example, certain medications like diuretics and heart medication can impair the body’s ability to regulate temperature. Protect their skin with sunscreen, hats and UV protection clothing if needed.
Watch for Signs of Heat Stress
Carefully monitor the person for potential signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke, which can progress rapidly. Symptoms may include:
- Confusion, agitation, dizziness or fainting
- Nausea, vomiting
- High body temperature, flushed or reddened skin
- Excessive sweating or lack of sweating
- Fast shallow breathing, rapid pulse
- Muscle cramps, weakness, headache
If you notice any of these symptoms, immediately move them to a cooler place and help lower their body temperature with cool cloths, baths or showers. Seek medical attention as needed especially if symptoms are severe or don’t improve. Heat stroke can be life-threatening.
Extreme heat waves don’t give much advance warning. But being proactive with cooling, hydration and monitoring can help protect the health and safety of a person with dementia when hotter weather is on the way.
Stay alert to local weather forecasts so you can plan ahead as much as possible and adjust activities accordingly. With preparation and vigilance, you can help reduce risks and support someone you care about during challenging seasons of extreme heat.
- Keep their living space cool
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Extreme Heat and Your Health. https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat/cooling.html
- Alzheimer’s Association. Summer Safety Tips for People with Alzheimer’s. https://www.alz.org/help-support/caregiving/safety/summer
- Plan activities for cooler parts of the day
- HealthinAging.org. Tips for Keeping Older Adults Safe in the Summer Heat. https://www.healthinaging.org/tools-and-tips/tips-keeping-older-adults-safe-summer-heat
- Keep them hydrated
- National Institute on Aging. Dehydration: A Common – and Dangerous – Condition for Older Adults. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/dehydration-common%E2%80%93and-dangerous%E2%80%93condition-older-adults
- Dress them appropriately
- HelpGuide.org. Protecting Seniors from Heat Stress. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/senior-health/protecting-seniors-from-heat-stress.htm
- Watch for signs of heat stress
- Mayo Clinic. Heat exhaustion. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heat-exhaustion/symptoms-causes/syc-20373250
- Medical News Today. Heat stroke: Symptoms, treatment, and prevention. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/182929