Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Big Chill: Keeping Loved Ones Safe

Winter hasn’t officially begun and I’m already tired of the frigid weather. Single digits and thirty-mile-an-hour winds make me want to burrow in and not make an appearance until springtime.

I started out bundled up in my winter coat and wearing a hat on a mission to finish my Christmas shopping. After a few miserable trips from car to store, I purchased a heavy sweatshirt and put it on beneath my coat. I pulled the hood up and spent the rest of the day with hair that was crushed to my head in places while static lifted the rest of it in wisps high above my head. Not a good hair day!

Hair is not the biggest challenge on a cold, windy winter day. The danger lies in being exposed to the elements for any length of time—especially without protective clothing.

Winter is especially dangerous when a family member has Alzheimer’s. A person with Alzheimer’s may not remember to dress appropriately for the weather and a trip across the yard to check the mail could turn into a tragedy.

About 60% of those with Alzheimer’s wander. Wandering is especially dangerous in inclement weather when every minute counts. Snow can change the look of the terrain and familiar surroundings may become unrecognizable to someone with dementia. Slippery sidewalks and snow filled ditches become an obstacle course fraught with danger.

In the early stages, Jim walked our two big dogs every day. One day, a neighbor became concerned about Jim when she saw him trudging through a deep snow walking the dogs. He was wearing his winter coat, but had neglected to zip it up. She met him at the end of her drive and convinced him to turn around and head toward home.

After Jim began to wander, I tried different types of safeguards. I tried a device on the doorknobs that made them hard to open, but they didn’t slow Jim down when he decided to open the door. Eventually, I installed an alarm on the door so he couldn’t go outside undetected. I registered Jim with Safe Return which gave me some peace of mind.

When a person is lost, it is critical to find him within the first 24 hours to increase the chances of having a good outcome. In cold winter weather, like we have now, the safety zone is further reduced.

Cold weather is dangerous for everyone, but when reasoning is impaired it is important for family members to be vigilant. If your loved one must go outside, make sure he or she is dressed warmly and limit outdoor activities to short period of times. Do not let a person with dementia go outside alone in inclement weather especially if they have been known to get lost.

Winter officially begins next week so we have plenty of time to experience the big chill. Let’s keep our loved ones warm and safe throughout the cold days ahead.

Copyright © December 2010 L. S. Fisher
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