Advocates recommend checking in on elderly during extreme cold

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – As the extreme cold continues to affect Hoosiers across the state, advocates are hoping to remind residents to check in on older and more vulnerable neighbors.

Each year, roughly half of those who die from hypothermia are 65 and older. Health professionals say the elderly are at an increased risk for cold-related injuries because as people get older, they have less body fat and a less efficient blood circulation.

Services like Meals on Wheels often take the time to conduct wellness checks on their elderly clientele, particularly during the colder months.

“A lot of our clients most of them are homebound, a lot of them don’t have family around. So we’re doing this service of having that wellness check and making sure they’re ok,” said Associate Director Nick Fennig.

Fennig added that wellness checks during extreme cold can be live-saving for the elderly who are struggling financially and may not have heat or electricity.

Dementia patients are also at a high risk for cold-related injuries

“They can be more likely to wander, and leave the home,” Maria Holmes with the Alzheimer’s Association of Greater Indiana said.

Holmes added that dementia patients can often forget to dress appropriately for the weather for which they’ll be in, and during the colder months, minutes of exposure can prove fatal.

“It could be just a matter of minutes and something dreadful can happen,” she said.

The Alzheimer’s Association recommends the following for preventing wandering during extreme cold:

  • Continue with daily activities. Having a routine can provide structure and help reduce the likelihood of wandering.
  • Identify the most likely times of day that wandering may occur. Plan activities at that time to help reduce anxiety, agitation and restlessness.
  • Reassure the person if he or she feels lost, abandoned or disoriented. If the person with dementia wants to leave to "go home" or "go to work," use communication focused on exploration and validation. Refrain from correcting the person. For example, "We are staying here tonight. We are safe and I'll be with you. We can go home in the morning after a good night's rest."
  • Ensure all basic needs are met. Has the person gone to the bathroom? Is he or she thirsty or hungry?
  • Avoid busy places that are confusing and can cause disorientation. This could be shopping malls, grocery stores or other busy venues.
  • Place locks out of the line of sight. Install locks either high or low on exterior doors, and consider placing slide bolts at the top or bottom.
  • Use devices that signal when a door or window is opened. This can be as simple as a bell placed above a door or as sophisticated as an electronic home alarm.
  • Provide supervision. Do not leave someone with dementia unsupervised in new or changed surroundings. Never lock a person in at home or leave him or her in a car alone.
  • Keep car keys out of sight. People with dementia don’t always wander by foot. Those who no longer drive may forget and decide to get behind the wheel, so it is important to remove access to car keys. If the person is still able to drive, consider using a GPS device to help if they get lost.

They also recommend creating a plan in the event that the person living with Alzheimer’s or other dementia goes missing. Tips include:

  • Keep a list of people to call on for help. Have telephone numbers easily accessible.
  • Ask neighbors, friends and family to call if they see the person alone.
  • Keep a recent, close-up photo and updated medical information on hand to give to police.
  • Know your neighborhood. Pinpoint dangerous areas near the home, such as bodies of water, open stairwells, dense foliage, tunnels, bus stops and roads with heavy traffic.
  • Keep a list of places where the person may wander. This could include past jobs, former homes, places of worship or a restaurant.
  • Provide the person with ID jewelry. Enroll the person in MedicAlert®+ Alzheimer's Association Safe Return®.

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