The words “summer” and “fun” naturally go together, and all of us can remember happy summer days filled with popsicles, carnivals, fireflies, cookouts … the list goes on and on. Summer is a great time to make memories with your loved ones, but when your loved one has Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, this can seem tricky. On one hand, summer is filled with enjoyable activities that stimulate the senses, lots of sunlight and fresh air, and opportunities to socially connect. On the other hand, summer is hot and can carry inherent dangers for your senior loved one.
“Summertime fun is absolutely possible for your loved one – it’s just important to recognize the dangers and make sure your senior is safe, happy and healthy,” says Trish McKay, Executive Director of Bridges® by EPOCH at Trumbull, a memory care assisted living community in Trumbull, CT. “Seniors are more prone to issues like dehydration and heatstroke, and that goes double for people with dementia who may not recognize the symptoms or can’t communicate their needs to their caregivers. It’s important for caregivers to recognize that safety is key.”
Trish says that, although this sounds serious and dire, it doesn’t mean that you have to keep your loved one inside at all times. “Summer is the perfect opportunity for seniors to be out of doors and experience the world,” she explains. “In fact, it’s very easy to do that safely. You don’t even have to completely reinvent your routine in order to keep your senior with dementia safe. All it takes is understanding the situation, adjusting your thinking and making plans in advance to ensure the safety of your loved one.”
Benefits of Summer Fun
When the weather is nice, most of us enjoy spending time outside. That’s good, because fresh air has many benefits to individuals with dementia. Just 30 minutes of sunshine provides a healthy dose of vitamin D, which helps boost moods, improves the immune system, builds bone health and keeps the circadian rhythm functioning properly. Fresh air has also been proven to have antibacterial properties.
“Being outside just makes us feel better,” says Trish. “Not only that, being outside and in nature is perfect for seniors with dementia because it stimulates all the senses. They can smell the freshly cut grass, feel the sun on their skin, hear the birds singing, touch leaves and plants and see the beautiful colors of blooming flowers. Even if you’re just sitting on your back porch, you and your loved one are getting so many benefits.”
Safety Tips for Seniors with Dementia
While thinking about your loved one’s safety may seem overwhelming at first, it’s actually easier than you think. In honor of National Safety Month, we’ve put together our top summer safety tips for seniors with dementia. As you’ll see, they’re all pretty common sense, easy to follow and only need a little bit of extra planning, meaning that a safe and happy summer is well within reach.
1. Stay hydrated.
Most people don’t drink enough water. That’s a problem for seniors, who tend to get dehydrated easier and faster than younger people because their bodies can’t conserve water as well. Individuals with dementia often don’t realize they’re thirsty or need to drink because their bodies don’t send them the “reminders.” (It doesn’t help that by the time you recognize you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated). Caregivers should make hydration a priority in the summer months. If you’re out and about, make sure you carry water with you and have your loved one drink regularly, especially if you’re out in the heat. At home, make sure hydration is always available – you may want to set out pitchers of water and cups in visible areas so that your loved one is reminded to drink. If plain water isn’t appetizing, choose hydrating foods like soups or fresh fruit that may be more palatable.
2. Check with your loved one’s doctor.
Many medications can cause seniors to become easily overheated – and some medications don’t work as well in the summer months due to the heat. It’s never a bad idea to check in with your loved one’s doctor to make sure you understand any potential issues or complications with the medication your loved one is taking. You may want to ask the doctor if he or she has any tips for helping keep individuals with dementia happy and safe during the hotter months.
3. Stay cool.
The easiest way to avoid heat exhaustion is by staying cool, and obviously, an air-conditioned home is the best way to do this. If your home isn’t air conditioned, make sure you have plenty of fans and a cool place where your loved one can go during the heat of the day. Other things that can help you and your loved one stay cool is by sipping iced beverages throughout the day, staying in the shade when you’re outside, avoiding the sun during the hottest times of the day (usually from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.), and using cool cloths to help wipe down skin if you or your loved one are feeling overheated.
4. Dress for the weather.
Seniors with dementia often don’t know what time of year it is, which can cause them to wear inappropriate clothes for summer. Make sure that heavy clothes like winter coats and sweaters are put away so your loved one doesn’t see them and potentially dress themselves in them. Choose natural, light-colored fabrics like cotton or linen, which are naturally cooler and wick away sweat. Although shorts and tank tops may seem like the best way to stay cool, use caution – sometimes, they can make you hotter because your skin is exposed to the burning sun. Choose loose and flowing items of clothing whenever possible that provide breathability as well as coverage.
5. Shield yourself from the sun.
As we get older, our skin becomes more sensitive, which increases your risk of sunburn and skin cancer. Make sure your loved one regularly wears sunscreen, especially when you’re out and about. Hats and sunglasses are also musts. If your loved one doesn’t enjoy wearing hats, perhaps a sun parasol might be a better option. Of course, whenever possible, stay in the shade when out-of-doors.
6. Know the signs of heat exhaustion.
Heat exhaustion occurs when body temperatures spike, causing a life-threatening situation. Be sure to watch your loved one for the warning signs: profuse sweating, headaches and weakness as well nausea and vomiting. If you notice these signs, get your loved one to a cool place and have him or her drink something cold. Use towels or washcloths soaked in cool water to help bring the body temperature down quickly. Once your loved one has stabilized, contact their doctor or go to the emergency room to get your loved one checked out. If you notice your loved one has stopped sweating, has a rapid pulse and heavy breathing, dry and flushed skin or sudden personality changes, call 911 immediately.
7. Keep bugs at bay.
Mosquitoes and other biting insects cause discomfort and carry diseases like West Nile Virus. Keep your loved one (and yourself) comfortable while outside by burning citronella candles and using bug spray when necessary.
Finally, don’t forget to have fun. Putting safety first will help you and your senior loved one spend quality time together this summer while creating meaningful and enjoyable moments.
Dedicated Memory Care
Bridges® by EPOCH at Trumbull delivers highly specialized memory care assisted living for those with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. Our resident-centered approach focuses on providing dignity, purpose and moments of joy in daily life for those in all stages of the disease. We offer a wellness-focused lifestyle that centers around a resident’s current skills and abilities, not those that have been lost to dementia.
Our team members take an active role in getting to know each resident on a personal level to deliver programming that is meaningful to them. We account for the preferences, interests, needs and abilities of our residents to connect with them and encourage their involvement in daily life and boost self-esteem.
Warm, Residential Atmosphere
Featuring a stunning residential design, every inch of our community has been designed to benefit those with memory loss. Attributes such as soft colors, directional cues, aromatherapy and interactive life stations create a soothing and secure environment where residents feel comfortable, safe and at home.
Bridges® by EPOCH is New England’s largest stand-alone memory care assisted living provider.
Contact us today to learn more.