Although so far Perth’s summer has been relatively mild, we can still expect some hot weather this time of year. As the hot weather approaches, it’s important to pay attention to the needs of people living with dementia, to ensure they are healthy and safe at all times.
So how to deal with some of these summer worries?
The problem: When the weather heats up, perspiration and body odour are a fact of life for all of us, however it can become problematic for people with dementia, as they may neglect self-care, including resisting the efforts of others to help them stay clean. Importantly, clean skin doesn’t just smell better; it’s important for health reasons.
Solutions: If you feel body odour is becoming an issue for someone you’re caring for, and if they are resisting showering etc then suggest sponge baths and wet wipes as a way to cool down (rather than as a necessity to keeping clean).
A complete bath/shower is recommended at least once a week; if it’s become difficult to do this, you could consider having an experienced home care support worker come to your house to assist you. Support workers are trained to assist clients with dementia with not only their personal care needs, but many other of their day-to-day care needs.
The problem: People with dementia are at a higher risk of dehydration because they can simply forget to drink, or they may be unable to recognize or communicate thirst. As the weather heats up, people sweat more which makes them more at risk of deydration. Some people with certain health conditions such as incontinence also tend to not drink very much to avoid having to urinate, also putting them at risk of dehydration.
Solutions: Hand a glass of water to the person and grab one for yourself, sit down and talk, gently encouraging sips every so often. Seeing you drink may encourage the person to copy you. Serve water with meals as well as snacks of juicy fruits (orange slices and watermelon are good). Remember that food like jelly, yoghurt, soup and ice-cream can also help with hydration, especially when a person has a swallowing problem.
Be mindful of the weather when you go out; older people tend to be more vulnerable to heat. Make sure they have a hat that lets the air flow through. Don’t let them sit in the car while you run errands, cars can get really hot very quickly if left in the sun.
Late sundown syndrome.
The problem: For some people with dementia the so called sundown syndrome (a period of agitation in the evening) can ease up in summer because there’s a shorter period of darkness before bedtime. For others, however, the long summer evenings mean more activity and more opportunity to become overtired before bed, which is one of the potential triggers for this pattern of behaviour.
Solutions: Try to stick to the regular year-round schedule for bedtime and continue this through the summer. You may want to take advantage of the longer daylight hours to encourage the person to get some exercise (being mindful of the heat). In general, slow the pace on hot days and in the evening, keep the house cool with an air conditioner, and dark as this signals that it is time to settle down for the night.
Holidays: what holiday?
The problem: Many people go on holiday this time of year, however this is not always possible for carers who have the full-time responsibility for a person with dementia.
Solutions: Ask someone you trust to stay in your home, whether they are a family member, friend or paid caregiver, or look at overnight respite care. It is vitally important that carers have the opportunity to recharge their batteries and enjoy some rest and relaxation so they can focus on their important role.