Winter Weather Safety for People with Dementia

Cold Winter Day/ Leonid Serebrennikov/ age fotostock /Getty Images.

Winter weather brings the beauty of snow and the challenge of freezing cold temperatures, depending, of course, where you live. But for people with Alzheimer's disease and other kinds of dementia, it also brings several potential safety hazards as well.

Cold Weather Concerns

  • Hypothermia

One of the biggest areas of concern in cold weather is hypothermia- a low body temperature. It's important to be able to recognize the symptoms of hypothermia,which include memory loss, slurred speech, shivering, exhaustion, sleepiness and hands that are unusually clumsy with tasks.

Hypothermia in dementia can be caused by:

Improper Dressing:

Some people with dementia struggle with an awareness of the weather and temperature and thus, they may choose clothes that are completely inappropriate for the season. They may be quite adamant that shorts are perfect for going outside in the snow.

Thermostat Too Low:

Others with Alzheimer's may have their thermostat set too low. As people age, it becomes more difficult to detect temperature changes, so it's possible they might just not be aware of the need for more heat in their home. Additionally, people who are on a fixed income may try to keep their thermostat set at a lower temperature than is safe to save money.


People who live with dementia are at a greater risk for hypothermia due to their risk of wandering and disorientation. If someone with dementia is missing and the weather is cold, finding her as soon as possible is critical.

Here are some resources on wandering in dementia:

Tips to Prevent Wandering in Alzheimer's Disease

5 Strategies to Try If Your Loved One Is Attempting to Wander Out the Door

What to Do if Your Loved One with Dementia is Missing

  • Thin Ice

If your loved one lives near water, there is a risk of them walking out onto thin ice and falling through.

  • Stove or Oven Left On

Some people with dementia may feel cold and turn their stove on to heat themselves up, but then forget to turn it back off. This puts them at risk for burns as well as an appliance, and eventually house, fire.

  • Electric Space Heater Risk

For those of you who try to supplement the heat in your home with an electric space heater, use caution. They certainly can help with heating; however, they also pose a fire hazard, especially when used with an extension cord.

  • Electric Blanket Risk

Electric blankets may seem to you a perfect solution, but they pose a danger for people who have dementia. Electric blankets may cause an area of skin to become too hot and burn, and the person with dementia may not be aware that the burn is occurring.

  • Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Due to the use of heating systems and a sealed up house, the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning is increased in the cold months. Be sure to install a carbon monoxide detector in your loved one's home- preferably one on each level of the house.

  • Slipping and Falling Outside

A person with dementia might not use good judgment and could attempt to shovel snow and ice when it isn't safe to do so, putting themselves at risk for falls and fractures.

  • Decreased Sunlight

The decreased sunlight in winter times can increase the potential for sleeping problems since there is less daylight. It can also increase agitation due to sundowning, a condition where people with Alzheimer's disease experience more restlessness and confusion as evening approaches.

Strategies to Increase the Safety of a Loved One with Dementia

  • Ask a neighbor to check on her.
  • Call her regularly to monitor for any changes.
  • Sign her up for the Alzheimer's Association Safe Return program.
  • Disconnect the stove and oven if she doesn't use them anymore.
  • Consider using GPS Monitoring.
  • Remove electric blankets and space heaters from her home.
  • Connect the lighting in her home to a timer that will provide additional, adequate lighting until night.
  • If possible, fence off the yard if there is a body of water behind the house.
  • Program her furnace for preset temperatures.
  • Make sure the furnace is in good working condition. Schedule a regular check up to ensure optimal functioning and make sure the furnace filter is changed regularly.
  • Arrange for her sidewalks and driveways to be plowed, shoveled and salted.
  • Acknowledge that, at some point, she might not be safe to live in her own home anymore, and set up a plan ahead of time for her care, whether that's in your home or in a facility.


Alzheimer's Society Ontario. Cold Weather Tips. 05/06/13. <a href=""></a>

Right at Home. In-Home Care and Assistance. Protecting Elderly during Cold Weather in Batavia, Illinois. January 3,2011.

U.S. Department of Health And Human Services. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Extreme Cold. A Prevention Guide to Promote Your Personal Health and Safety.

US Health and Human Services. National Institute on Aging. Stay Safe in Cold Weather. November 21, 2011.

Wisconsin Department of Health Safety. Winter Safety Measures. <a href=""></a>

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