Winter tips in caring for a person’s memory impairment
Winter is a hard time of the year for many of us. Slippery roads, lack of sunlight, less available fresh food, and the inability to sit outside are all limiting factors. For a person with memory impairment, these things can be exasperating. Caregivers may find the following tips useful in helping their loved one with memory impairment thrive throughout this season.
There are a variety of hazards in the winter. If your loved one likes to wander off, please consider using a GPS tracking device for them. They make GPS tracking neck pendants, shoes with built-in location finding assistance and bracelets specifically for dementia use. They also have door and window alarms that will alert you if a window or door has been opened, giving you, as the caregiver, a chance to redirect or go with your loved one.
Watch in-home hazards. The person might want to cook but is unsure how, or might forget to turn off the stove. There are devices called “FireAvert” that will shut off your electric stove if smoke is sensed. From the AlzStore: The FireAvert is a must for every home in the US. In fact, every 3.5 minutes a stove fire is reported. Cooking on an electric stove is the #1 cause of home fires in the US with 500 people who lose their lives and 5,000 people who are severely injured every year. The average cost of a stove fire for a homeowner is over $6,000. If you have a gas stove, it is sometimes advisable to shut off the gas and electric to the stove when you are not monitoring your kitchen or get specialized knobs that lock into place.
Medication errors can happen and may have dire consequences. The person with dementia may mistake pills for candy, take too much or too little of important medications, or may give them to pets or children. You can purchase specialized medication administration devices that have timers built into them and will sound a reminder at medication time. They are prefilled by a caregiver. If the person lives alone, many of these machines can be set to call or text families that the medication has not been taken so the person can be checked on.
Falls happen frequently in people with cognitive impairment. Be mindful of tripping hazards in the home. It is important to keep clutter away, have your loved one wear non-slip shoes or slipper socks, be sure you have railings in the appropriate places, grab bars in bathrooms, non-skid mats in tubs/showers, and adequate lighting throughout your home. If the person you are caring for has balance or walking problems, please consider getting a consult for physical therapy. PT can do a variety of things to help keep your loved one safe, assist with obtaining adaptive equipment, and make recommendations on setting up your home to best fit the specific needs of the person with dementia.
Sometimes the person you care for might not want to eat large meals. Often people with dementia do better with small healthy snacks and meals throughout the day. It is important to leave out healthy grab and go items like muffins, bananas, apples, pears, and snack bars for the person who doesn’t like to eat regular meals. There are many recipes out there for high protein cookies, shakes, and smoothies that taste good and are made with nutritious ingredients. Encourage water intake throughout the day (watch that the cup is not too large or too heavy.) Bright colored plates (especially red) can contrast well to food and the table and often help appetite stimulation. Speak to a nutritionist about the specific needs of your loved one if they are struggling in this area.
Meeting Recreation Needs:
People with memory impairment like to stay busy and have purposeful things to do, particularly when forced to stay indoors due to weather. It is important to remember past interests and things that brought them joy, as many can be adapted to what they can do now. Focus on the CAN! If a person liked baking, break it down into simple step by step tasks. Use hand over hand interaction as needed. A person might like to help you fold towels (you can always keep a load of towels just for the purpose of folding them), sort silverware in a tray, or wipe off tables. They may like to look at old photographs (and maybe sort through them), organize greeting cards, listen to music, read short stories (Chicken Soup books are great for this) or arrange flowers in a vase (you can get a variety of flowers at a dollar store as well as shatterproof vases.) Simple trivia (finish the phrase, old wives tales, finish the song lyric, bible verses), adult coloring, sorting dry goods in the pantry, word finds puzzles, clipping coupons, holding a pet, or looking at catalogs may be comforting activities. A person also may want to do things that reflect their lifelong career (get creative with the tasks!). If you have access to a sunroom or can easily get them out in the car to go for a drive during the daytime this can be very helpful. We all crave sunshine!
Help for the Caregiver:
Please be sure to talk to your loved one’s doctor regularly about their changing needs. There are a variety of medications and complementary therapies that can be helpful. Your medical team may recommend things like weighted blankets for nighttime insecurity, essential oils for their calming effect, or light therapy lamps.
It is also important to give yourself a break as a caregiver. Check out the local adult day service, caregiver support groups, and home care options. Share responsibilities with family and do not be afraid to ask for help!
This article brought to you by the Eldercare Council of Forest-Warren Counties.
Reyd Martin is Rouse Estates Life Enrichment Director.