Dementia & Heat Safety: Heat Is Especially Dangerous For Someone With a Dementia-Related Illness
July 6, 2023
With heat indexes well over 100 degrees creating dangerous conditions for millions of Americans during a prolonged heat wave, the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) is providing important tips to help caregivers keep their loved ones living with dementia safe.
“Triple-digit temperatures and heat indexes are especially dangerous for someone with a Dementia-related illness such as Alzheimer’s Disease, because the effects of Dementia can impair their ability to notice if they are developing heat stroke or dehydration,” said Jennifer Reeder, LCSW, SIFI, Director of Educational and Social Services for the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America. “Taking a few simple steps will go a long way to help caregivers keep their loved one with dementia safe during the heat wave.”
Watch Out For Wandering
Wandering is a common and potentially dangerous behavior for individuals with Dementia, as they can get lost or become disoriented, and not know how or who to call for help. It’s even more dangerous in extreme heat conditions, where heat stroke (a serious elevation in body temperature that is sparked by exposure to extreme environmental heat or a mixture of heat and humidity) can develop in minutes. There are many reasons why someone with dementia wants to go outdoors. Being outside may provide a feeling of purposefulness or satisfaction; be a response to excessive stimuli, be triggered by the need to get away from noises and people; or is a response to an unmet need (i.e., hunger, thirst, boredom). Reduce the chances of wandering by identifying consistent and sustainable ways to support these experiences in a safe environment: create walking paths around the home with visual cues and stimulating objects, engage the person in simple tasks, or offer engaging activities (i.e., music, crafts, games). Ensuring basic needs are met can also reduce the chances of wandering.
Keep a recent photo and medical information on hand, as well as information about familiar destinations that are currently, or formerly, frequented, that can be shared with emergency responders if the person wanders. This will expedite search and rescue efforts.
Monitor the person’s fluid intake. Alzheimer’s Disease and other Dementia-related illnesses can affect a person’s ability to know when they are thirsty, thus making it critically important for caregivers to monitor fluid intake and encourage them to drink frequently. Avoid alcohol and caffeinated beverages, as these drinks may contribute to dehydration.
Observe the person for heat stroke warning signs. Dementia-related illnesses can make it harder for a person to detect temperature changes, putting them at greater risk for heat stroke. Watch for warning signs such as excessive sweating, exhaustion, hot, dry, or red skin, muscle cramps, rapid pulse, headaches, dizziness, nausea, or sudden changes in mental status. If the person is exhibiting these warning signs, such actions as resting in an air-conditioned room, removing clothing, applying cold compresses, and drinking fluids can all help cool the body. If the person faints, exhibits excessive confusion or is unconscious, call 911 immediately.
Know where to cool down. Many municipalities will open up air conditioned “cooling centers” so that people who do not have air conditioning can go cool down. These centers can include senior centers, libraries, community centers and other municipal/public buildings. If your person does not have air conditioning, find out if there are cooling centers are nearby.
Plan ahead. Blackouts and other power failures can sometimes occur during heat waves. Make sure that cell phones, tablets, and other electrical devices are fully charged. Flashlights should be easily accessible in case of a power failure. Have the emergency contact numbers for local utility providers, as well as the police and fire departments, readily accessible.
Have a long-distance plan if necessary. If you don’t live near your loved one, arrange for someone nearby to check on them. Inform this contact person about emergency contacts, and where important medical information, such as an insurance card, is kept. Make sure your loved one has plenty of water, and has access to air conditioning or other cooling mechanisms.
The Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return Program
The Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return program is a 24-hour nationwide identification, support and enrollment program. They work with law enforcement to quickly identify and return to safety a person with Alzheimer’s or a related Dementia who has wandered, locally or far from home.
How It Works
A MedicAlert membership plan with Wandering Support helps first responders and families reconnect with individuals living with Dementia who experience a medical emergency or have wandered.
When an incident call comes in, MedicAlert’s Emergency Response Team collects all the relevant information on the missing or found person. For missing incidents, a missing person report is generated and distributed to local police, EMS and other authorities as appropriate. MedicAlert continues to follow up on the case until it is resolved.
The member’s profile contains medical conditions, allergies, medications taken, past surgical history, and other important information. In an emergency, the MedicAlert Emergency Response Team relays this information to first responders to enable fast, accurate care.
In a wandering incident, MedicAlert collaborates with emergency responders and provides the member’s information to facilitate a safe return. MedicAlert communicates with the member’s emergency contacts during and after a wandering incident.
If the person is reported found by law enforcement or another official agency, when provided with the member’s ID number from an ID bracelet or ID accessory, MedicAlert will release the person’s personal details, emergency contacts and medical information to first responders. If the person is reported found by a good Samaritan, MedicAlert will reach out directly to the member’s emergency contacts to assist in a safe return to their family.
Membership Plans & ID Bracelets
Members are required to purchase an ID bracelet or accessory, and an Advantage or Advantage Plus membership to participate in the Wandering Support program. Products can be purchased through MedicAlert, including ID bracelets, necklaces and other accessories for men and women. The cost for an ID bracelet or another product is dependent upon the style selected. All IDs are custom engraved with the member’s medical information and unique MedicAlert member number.
To learn more about and purchase a MedicAlert membership plan and ID products:
• Online: Go to: https://www.medicalert.org/our-partners/alz/ and use the promo code ALZ.
• Phone: Call MedicAlert’s Member Services line 800.ID.ALERT (800.432.5378) and use the promo code ALZ.
Local Law Enforcement
If you rather work directly with local law enforcement to inform them of a loved ones home address and description, in case they ever wander away from home, many police departments have programs to assist with persons with Dementia or Autism. Here is the contact information for a few local police jurisdictions to contact in your loved one lives within that city:
Sunny Isles Beach Police Department: Cautism@sibpd.net or call: 305.947.4440
Hallandale Beach Police Department: 954.457.1400
Hollywood Police Department: 954.764.4357
Aventura Police Department: 305.466.8989
Dania Beach Police Department: 954.926.2400
Caregivers who have questions or need additional information can contact the AFA Helpline by phone: (866-232-8484), text: (646-586-5283), or webchat: (www.alzfdn.org) to speak with a licensed social worker. The Helpline is available seven days a week.