Alzheimer’s Foundation: Triple-digit heatwave heightens risks for dementia patients

Published 2:58 pm Wednesday, July 12, 2023

As a looming heatwave, with potential for triple-digit temperatures, threatens the United States, the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) urges vigilance in safeguarding dementia patients from hazardous conditions. The upcoming excessive heat presents a
particular danger for dementia sufferers, who may struggle with common heat-related challenges due to their illness.

Experts identify wandering, a prevalent behavior in individuals with dementia, as especially dangerous in extreme heat. Wandering may arise from various stimuli, such as a sense of purpose, a desire to escape noise or a response to unmet needs like hunger or boredom. The AFA encourages caregivers to reduce wandering risks by designing safe environments with walking paths, visual cues and engaging activities.

If wandering does occur, a recent photo, medical information and familiar destination details should be readily available for emergency responders to speed up search and rescue efforts.

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In this intense heat, caregivers need to pay extra attention to the fluid intake of dementia patients. Dementia-related illnesses can impair one’s ability to detect thirst, making the monitoring of hydration critically important. Alcohol and caffeinated beverages should be avoided, as these can worsen dehydration.

Dementia can also interfere with an individual’s ability to sense temperature changes, increasing their risk for heat stroke. Caregivers should stay vigilant for signs such as excessive sweating, exhaustion, hot or dry skin, muscle cramps, rapid pulse, headaches, dizziness, nausea or sudden changes in mental status. Immediate cooling measures should be taken, such as moving to an air-conditioned room or applying cold compresses, if such signs occur. In severe cases, like fainting or unconsciousness, calling 911 is advised.

As extreme heat continues, many municipalities will open air-conditioned cooling centers. Caregivers should check for nearby centers if the individual under their care lacks access to air conditioning.

Shane Fortner, director of Emergency Management in Oxford explained, “There aren’t any active cooling stations at this moment, but we have plans in place for them, and have had those stations set up in the past. Each severe weather event is handled on a case-by-case basis.” Fortner went on to say that the city of Oxford leadership and his office remain in close contact with one another to make decisions based on the unique circumstances of each situation.

Beau Moore with the Lafayette County Emergency Management also confirmed that a plan was in place for cooling stations should the county undergo a “catastrophic loss” of power.

The National Weather Service (NWS) in Memphis reported Monday morning that the current six-day forecast for Oxford and surrounding areas will see conditions where, “…high temperatures are expected to be in the middle 90s with heat indices at or above 105 for much of the area,” and that, “a heat advisory or warning will likely be needed.”

The AFA further recommends planning for heatwave-induced power failures. Caregivers should keep essential devices fully charged and accessible. Emergency contact numbers, including local utility providers and emergency services should be readily

For caregivers living far from their loved ones, the AFA suggests arranging for a local contact to check in on them to ensure they have access to adequate water and cooling mechanisms.

The AFA Helpline stays open seven days a week for caregivers seeking additional information or guidance. Call them at 866-232-8484, text to 646-586-5283 or webchat via