With high temperatures flirting with triple digits this week, practically everyone in Iowa is struggling to stay cool, but the heat wave can be particularly challenging for Iowans who are living with dementia.

Lauren Livingston, spokeswoman for the Iowa chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, says the extreme heat can be just as dangerous as a wintertime blizzard for people with memory issues.

“Sometimes if they’re living on their own, they may not understand what’s going on, they may not know how to prepare themselves with the right type of clothing when they go outside or how to keep themselves cool,” Livingston says. “They may not realize that they are experiencing heat exhaustion or dehydration as much as someone without dementia.”

Family and friends should make plans to regularly check in on a person living with dementia during extreme heat and special arrangements may be needed for sleeping.
“Often people with dementia experience trouble sleeping at night,” Livingston says. “They may try to wander out of the house which can be very dangerous if it’s too hot. Just make sure they have a cool, comfortable place, keep an eye on them if you can be there with them, if you’re not already overnight.”

During the winter, we’ll occasionally hear about so-called Silver Alerts when a person with Alzheimer’s has wandered from home during the bitter cold. Livingston says the risks during the heat of summer are just as great.

“They can experience dehydration and heat exhaustion but it can still cause them to have an emergency situation where they may need to go to the hospital, but if they wander out and they’re on their own, they may not have brought their phone or even remember how to call for help or that they need help,” Livingston says, “so it’s just as dangerous.”

More than six million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, including 66,000 Iowans.