Winter Dementia Care: 6 Ways to Care for People with Dementia

Homecare250pxWe all respond in different ways to longer dark evenings, colder weather and the changes in family routines that Christmas and the holiday seasons bring.

Dementia care at this time of year is essential. People who suffer with dementia are often more affected and can become more confused during periods of change, necessitating more attention. Careful dementia care is important. As a professional care agency we incorporate all of the following practices into our care management and advice for our customers:

1. Think about inclement weather planning
Berkshire may not be famous for snow-drifts and white-outs but this means our transport systems are sometimes more affected than towns in Siberia when the snow and ice comes! So, we need to manage the risk of difficulties in getting to the shops by keeping a minimum of 3 days’ food in the house. Using even a small freezer compartment for a small loaf and a pint of milk is something to consider. If solid fuel is used for heating, then regular checks on stock levels are essential.

2. Only go out when dressed up for the cold
We now know that the number-one cause of illness and death in winter is down to very cold weather! So, Halcyon discourages customers from going outside and asks whether there is someone else to go to the shops or get things delivered. If they must go outside, we encourage them to dress warmly in layers with hats, gloves, scarves, windproof and waterproof jackets, and wear shoes that are waterproof and have a good grip. That means storing those items so that it is difficult not to “forget” to wear them when they go out. And, where we can’t find those items easily to hand, that we notice it and encourage family members to buy winter-weather clothes.

3. Keep the home warm
Although we all worry about energy costs the home must be kept warm. Some people with dementia can get confused or anxious about heaters and central heating systems. Try to arrange for automatic timer systems that keep the living area in the home at around 18-21°C. We also discourage the practice that is prevalent among many elderly people of sleeping with an open bedroom window – both to save energy and for security reasons.

4. Take action against loneliness and isolation
For reasons that are often linked to sunlight and sunshine, loneliness and depression are more apparent in the winter months. For those suffering with dementia and living on their own, regular and routine visiting is an essential part of their wellbeing. Late afternoon visitors need to take the responsibility to pull the curtains and switch on a light for when it gets darker later. Try to start or bring some activity to get them involved with, doing it together if possible. If it is not possible for the family to sit down with a dementia sufferer, arrange with a care agency to stop by for a regular companionship call during the week.

5. Eat Well
People with dementia are prone to “missing” meals; but our bodies keep warm by burning the food we eat! Hot meals with plenty of carbohydrates (potatoes, bread, pasta and rice), stews and soups help keep illnesses at bay and maintain health and wellbeing. There is also no quicker way to warm the body from inside than with a warm drink of hot chocolate, tea or coffee. Our carers work to care plans, ensuring at least one cooked meal a day in winter, with plenty of hot drinks during the visits and throughout the day.

6. Manage expectations for the holiday period
People with dementia can become anxious with changes in routine and in unfamiliar places. Visiting them at home is often less stressful than taking them out. Family members need to be prepared, and understand that when faced with a new environment a common reaction for those affected is to ask to be taken home after a very short period. This is not a reaction to anything that has been done or said and offense should not be taken. Furthermore, if you are considering bringing in carers to manage in your absence over a holiday period, arrange for plenty of short visits prior to the departure in order to allow enough time for a relationship to be built before departing.

Big family gatherings around Christmas lunches with lots of “unfamiliar” faces can trigger confusion. The need to buy and receive Christmas presents can also increase fretfulness and concern. Families need to manage the Christmas presents issue, preferably by reassuring them that the presents have all been taken care of. But despite these issues, try not to leave someone alone on Christmas Day. Make them feel wanted and involve them appropriately in the preparations and the activities; suffering from dementia does not mean you are incapable of peeling potatoes! We always advise families they will have a more successful gathering when they manage both their own expectations as well as the event.

Ann Smith -Dementia Champion, Halcyon Home Care


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