RICHMOND, Va. -- As extreme heat plagues Virginia again this week, some people are at higher risk of heat-related illnesses.
People living with Alzheimer's or dementia may struggle with communicating that they are overheated or even understanding how they're feeling, which is why it's important for caregivers to plan ahead and pay extra attention.
"We need to kind of pick up on those signs of discomfort because in the middle and late stages, someone living with dementia is not going to be able to communicate their discomfort," explained Katie McDonough, Community Executive Director of the Alzheimer's Association of South Eastern Virginia.
McDonough said even if your loved one enjoys walking or spending time outside, you may want to avoid those outings in this weather.
"If you typically go for a walk or maybe go shopping or are going to visit friends, if it doesn't give you pretty quick access to a cool place, and you have to be outdoors for an extended period of time, I would say stay home," she noted. "Stay inside, and stay cool."
Another important tip is to make sure your loved one is dressed appropriately for the extreme temperatures because if someone with dementia is dressing themselves, they might follow their usual routine and forget to dress for the weather.
Light-colored, loose-fitting clothes can help keep people comfortable and prevent overheating.
Also, be sure your loved one’s home is cool, and if it's not, consider keeping cold washcloths or ice cubes near them.
"There can be increased episodes of wandering outside the home," said McDonough. "That is a very common symptom and experience for someone who's living with dementia, leaving the home and getting lost. And, you know, if someone is highly uncomfortable in a really hot home, they're likely going to find someplace that is cooler, so that may be somewhere outside. We want to make sure that those who may be prone to wandering have supervision at all times, and that we're taking precautions to make sure that they can't leave on their own."
One of the most important tips, keep water within reach of your loved one because they may not remember to ask for it.
"It's really, really important that caregivers are constantly offering water to someone living with dementia, and constantly reminding them to drink and hydrate," noted McDonough.
The Alzheimer's Association also noted some medications and dementia-related illnesses can make dehydration worse.
If you don’t live near your loved one with Alzheimer’s, ask a neighbor to check in on them.
But if you are concerned and need extra advice, the Alzheimer’s Association has a 24/7 helpline that’s available 365 days a year. You can call that number at 1-800-272-3900.