One of the common effects of dementia progression is the loss of the ability to regulate body temperature; it’s either too hot or too cold.
For years I gave caregiver workshops on improving communication with those with dementia which were hosted by different eldercare facilities. I was in and out of scores of places and witnessed the good and bad aspects of the care the residents received or didn’t. Whenever a resident needed help and no one responded I always stopped what I was doing to help them.
This particular day I was late and was rushing to get my workshop set up. As I passed the nurses station there was a very thin, frail old man sitting in a wheelchair in front of it. He had on a sweater and a thin blanket covered his legs. He was obviously in later stages of dementia and kept crying out, “So cold, so cold” over and over again. I touched his hand which was blue and cold as a corpse. I said to the nurse, he’s freezing, can you do something. She looked up over her reading glasses and said, “Oh he’s always cold, I brought him that blanket. Nothing we can do about it.” So, I went to the linen room and brought back three heavier blankets. And completely wrapped him the head to foot and gently rubbed his hands and arms to get his circulation going. I remember the sweet expression of gratitude on his face as he weakly said, “Thank you”.
Too often the person with dementia can’t tell you they are experiencing extremes of body temperature. Like that nurse, you may not realize you need to keep working at it until they are comfortable. Sometimes they can’t recognize what is happening in their bodies and it will be up to you to monitor it for them. Be aware of the physical signs of unregulated temperature.
If they have low blood pressure being too cold is quite common. If high they might have hot flashes, reddened face, or sweat profusely. When they are uncomfortably hot or cold, they might become problematic. Wouldn’t you?
Adjust the room temperature and their clothing accordingly and give them iced or hot drinks; ginger tea with honey is warming and iced mint tea cools the body down. Hot soups warm and apples cool. Many foods can regulate body temp. Also cooling them down with a wet washcloth or rubbing hands and forearms helps restore body temperature. Be aware of the temperature of the day when you take them out and always dress them properly.
Be proactive in keeping them comfortable and be sure to inform your home care aides or facility if your loved one has an ongoing problem with body temperature.