7 ways to support a person with dementia in cold weather

Posted on: 20/01/2023

The bad weather and colder temperatures associated with autumn and winter can be particularly difficult for somebody living with dementia. Sometimes symptoms can become temporarily worse or people with dementia may struggle to communicate that they’re cold.

Here are 7 ways to help support somebody living with dementia in cold weather.

Make sure the person is dressed appropriately

It’s important to ensure a person with dementia is dressed appropriately for colder weather, as they can’t always do this for themselves. Layers are key to keeping warm, and the best materials for maintaining body heat are cotton, wool, or fleecy fibres.

A lot of heat is lost through the head and neck, so make sure the person has a hat and scarf on if you venture outside. Gloves are also important for keeping hands warm. If it’s icy or snowy, make sure the person is wearing appropriate footwear, such as non-skid boots.

Keep the room warm

For vulnerable people such as the elderly, a change in room temperature can present several health risks. For example:

  • A temperature of less than nine degrees has the potential to lead to hypothermia
  • A temperature of nine to twelve degrees or above 24 degrees increases the risk of strokes and heart attacks

Any rooms that are occupied throughout the day should be kept warm. It is recommend that the elderly heat their main living areas to 21 degrees, while heating the rest of their home to at least 18 degrees.

Remember, if you were born on or before 25th September 1956 you could get between £250 and £600 to help you pay your heating bills. This is known as a ‘Winter Fuel Payment’.

The amount you’ll get includes a ‘Pensioner Cost of Living Payment’. This is between £150 and £300. You’ll only get this extra amount in winter 2022 to 2023.

Encourage regular movement

Remaining active during the colder months can help keep someone with dementia warm, as well as help to boost circulation. You should encourage the person to move around at least once an hour if possible.

If walking is difficult or extreme weather conditions make it hard to go outside, simply getting the person with dementia to move their arms and legs, or wiggling their toes can be helpful.

Make the most of natural daylight 

Decreased sunlight can cause someone with dementia to feel increased anxiety, agitation and confusion during the winter. 

You can help by making sure they’re exposed to natural daylight when possible. Get outside when you can – a short walk around or even just sitting outside in the garden for a few minutes can do wonders.

At home, make sure curtains are open during the day to let in as much light as possible. You could also position the furniture so that the person with dementia is sitting near a window. As natural light starts to fade, make sure lights and lamps are turned on.

Sometimes, during the late afternoon or early evening, you may notice your loved one’s behaviour change. This is commonly called “sundowning”. We discuss sundowning in greater depth in our article here.

Stick to a routine

Disruptions to routine can cause someone with dementia to become agitated or confused.

If you do have to make changes to someone’s routine in winter, try to do them slowly and gradually.

Take extra care in icy or snowy weather

Perception issues can make it difficult for someone with dementia to see icy patches on a pavement or understand that snow can make a surface extra slippery.

If you’re out for a walk in icy or snowy conditions, make sure you’re supporting the person with dementia carefully. Encourage them to take smaller steps and walk more slowly than usual.

Eat and drink regularly

It’s not uncommon to think that you are less likely to be dehydrated in the colder months, but studies have proven that hydration is just as important in autumn and winter as it is in the warmer seasons.

Keeping warm uses up a lot of energy, and a warm house can increase the risk of dehydration. It’s important to make sure someone with dementia is drinking enough fluid when temperatures drop.

Snacking throughout the day can help keep energy levels up, and hot drinks can help keep them warm.

If you are worried about a loved one who is living with dementia, take a look at our dedicated page to dementia for further information and resources here.