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Alzheimer’ s winter challenges

Winter can be a difficult time for many who miss the sunshine, have seasonal depression or just long for warmer days on the deck. For people living with Alzheimer’s or dementia, it adds to their challenges. The days are shorter, the nights are longer and the weather is colder. Experts say they have a hard time adjusting to the change.

“They’re accustomed to having more daylight,” said Jim Herlihy, vice president of communications for the Alzheimer’s Association of Colorado (AAC). “Earlier sunsets can cause confusion, agitation and restlessness. The person doesn’t understand why this is happening and it feels like it’s bedtime and the day is over too soon.”

Wandering is something else to be aware of. “They may like to go on walks,” Herlihy added. “But there comes a point when they may not be able to find their way home, and naturally, with cold weather, there’s a greater risk.”

Caregivers and family members can make a difference in keeping their Alzheimer patients safe and comfortable during this season. The AAC offers some safety tips such as:

Help the person living with Alzheimer’s dress warmly for winter weather conditions by wearing loose-fitting layers.
Promote natural sunlight in the home. Position furniture or a favorite chair near a window.
Be aware that those living with a diagnosis may not always be able to communicate if they are cold.
Have on hand items like a blanket, robe and fuzzy socks with grippy bottoms.
Promote movement; it will help with circulation.
For extra help, Herlihy says the organization offers a free, 24-hour helpline, (800) 272-3900, which he says receives more calls during the holiday season when families reunite because the patients can be confused by the recognition of the person but not on a regular basis.
“They see a loved one they haven’t seen for some time. That’s when the changes brought about by dementia really become noticeable,” Herlihy said. “Memory loss is among the most common, but everybody doesn’t experience Alzheimer’s the same way.”

More than six million people in the United States, including 76,000 Coloradans, are living with Alzheimer’s. While there is no cure for the disease, there are medications to help alleviate the symptoms associated with it.

The AAC encourages people who recognize a change in personality or behavior of an aging family member to schedule an appointment with their primary care physician.

Herlihy concluded that caregivers could also use extra help. An AAC survey showed 84% of an estimated 160,000 people who serve as unpaid caregivers in Colorado would like more support providing care for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia, especially from their families.

“Give them the gift of your time,” said Herlihy. “That might be running errands, doing grocery shopping, or shoveling snow.”

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By Mindy Stone Tappan



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