Summer is a season perfect for relishing in the simple pleasures in life: a good plate of fresh food with friends, a walk down by the water, a lazy morning in the garden. For seniors with dementia, it is important that summer be a safe time to soak in the vitamin D and enjoy the certain something that rejuvenates our body and spirit. Here are three big summer risks to watch out for if you are caring for a loved one with dementia:
Several factors increase the risk of dehydration for all seniors. As we age, our muscle mass tends to decrease and our ability to retain water diminishes as well. Certain medications can also cause dehydration or symptoms that lead to dehydration such as diarrhea or sweating. For those with various stages of dementia, the risks of dehydration increase due to the changes in the brain and behavior. Here are three dementia-specific risks to keep in mind:
1. We rely on our body’s thirst mechanism to tell us when to take in fluids. Those with various stages of dementia may not recognize or be able to communicate that they are thirsty. Loved ones and caregivers should pay close attention to their fluid intake and offer a variety of choices and opportunities to refresh themselves throughout the day. Caregivers can add a little something to that glass of water or tea like mint, cucumber, or lemon to entice and make it feel special. When offering fluids, frame your question in the form of a “this or that” choice, instead of a question that provokes a “yes or no” response.
2. The symptoms of dehydration can often be mistaken for symptoms of the disease or even just advanced age. These include headaches, muscle and joint pain, difficulty thinking/ cloudiness and fatigue.
3. One of the most common issues that rarely gets talked about is the prevalence of UTIs (Urinary Tract Infections) among seniors. When we drink plenty of water, not only does the intake support major body functioning, the output flushes toxins and bacteria through urination. When we are dehydrated, the body holds onto that water and bacteria can build up. Aging kidneys can begin to fail in their ability to remove all the toxins, which makes it all the more important to regularly flush out our bodies with fluid.
Sunburn/ Skin Damage
Our skin is the largest organ in the body and changes significantly with us over a lifetime. As we age, our skin becomes more fragile and transparent making it more susceptible to the harsh UV rays of the sun. For those with dementia, one of the hallmark symptoms of the progression of the disease is an inability to dress appropriately for the season. For example, the routine of putting on sunscreen, protective clothing, and sun glasses may not occur to them before going outside. Be sure to cue loved ones on protecting the skin from the sun the same way you would cue them for other hygiene routines. Keep it fun by building a kit together to keep by the door or in the car or go hat shopping as an "glamour" outing. More on Senior Skincare Here
Heat Exhaustion/ Heat Stroke
In addition to the important tips above, helping someone with dementia appropriately dress for summer weather is also one of the best ways you help them avoid heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Dressing in layers will help during transitions between the heat outside and the cool, air-conditioned spaces inside. Choose clothing that is light in color and fabric and that breathes well. Help your loved one understand their limits of sun exposure. The sun and heat can be most extreme between 10am and 4pm. Choose either the early mornings or early evenings for getting out and enjoying the daylight.
As a caregiver of a loved one with dementia, your compassionate detailed attention is the most important tool in keeping them safe this summer. You are their partner in navigating the changes in their body. While it may be easier to skip that walk in the garden or not go to the outdoor concert, make the effort to create moments of joy and help them engage in summer. It is summer, after all.
Published on June 7, 2016.