Why winter is dangerous for people with memory loss — and what you can do

Senior walks on a winter forest (tkhatsko/Getty Images)
Shana Helps
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Updated:

Sponsored Story By American Senior Communities

For people with Alzheimer’s and dementia, any time of year can be difficult, but winter is particularly challenging.

After all, even for those who love winter, the season requires more preparation and caution when venturing outside, or even staying inside.

“Seniors are particularly vulnerable to cold weather, as well as icy conditions,” American Senior Communities says. “Everyday hazards like snow and ice can cause falls and injuries even for people with full cognitive ability; for those living with memory loss, the danger is even greater.”

Here are a few ways that winter is particularly dangerous for seniors with memory loss.

They can get lost in the cold

Because people with memory loss can become unsure of where they are, even in their own homes, they may wander outside to search for something familiar. While this is dangerous year-round, winter is particularly hazardous because they can end up underdressed in freezing temperatures.

And, with so many people at holiday parties or family gatherings, it can be difficult to keep an eye on your loved ones and notice right away when they’ve gone missing.

They can fall ill

Another concern in winter is that a person with memory loss may not remember what season it is and could forget to turn up the temperature at home, leading to hypothermia.

“Older adults are especially vulnerable to hypothermia because their body's response to cold can be diminished by underlying medical conditions such as diabetes, some medicines including over-the-counter cold remedies, and aging itself,” the National Institutes of Health says. “As a result, hypothermia can develop in older adults after even relatively mild exposure to cold weather or a small drop in temperature.”

They can become stuck in a crisis

Other times, these seniors may have responded to the cold by warming up the house with stoves, ovens, or space heaters that they then forget to turn off, which can cause fires or carbon monoxide poisoning.

“In all of these cases, memory loss can make it difficult for a person to respond to emergencies, meaning help often does not arrive in time,” American Senior Communities says.

What you can do

These scenarios are frightening, so take steps to protect your loved ones with memory loss:

  • Ensure they have warm clothes where they will see them every morning.
  • Keep an eye on them during outings and gatherings, even in familiar locations.
  • Install an automatic thermostat with programed adjustments.
  • Keep sidewalks, entrances, and exits to living spaces free of ice.
  • Give them a panic button for immediate help during emergencies.

It may be that you are caring for a senior in your home and already have safety precautions in place. Even then, sometimes you need to attend an event, travel out of town, or just need a break. In those cases, American Senior Living offers short-term respite care in a comfortable environment, with 24-hour nursing, restaurant-style dining, outings, transportation to appointments, and more.

However, sometimes it isn’t possible for seniors who need extra care to live with family members, so finding a place they will be comfortable and cared for is vital.

American Senior Communities has nearly 90 communities throughout Indiana and Kentucky to care for those with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. Whether in a memory care apartment or a specialized memory care center, your loved one will enjoy the benefits of compassionate staff and a home-like setting with tailored programs and approaches. Visit ASCcare.com to learn more about the communities near you.