Q. My wife has early-stage Alzheimer’s disease. What can I do this winter to help make sure she stays healthy throughout the colder months and to ensure we’re prepared in case of an emergency?
A. During the winter months, everyone should do some basic things to be prepared. In addition, those caring for people with Alzheimer’s disease should take extra steps to be ready for the cold weather and for any emergencies that might arise.
Make safety a priority in the home. Make sure fireplaces or woodstoves are in safe working order. Winter is also a good time to check all fire extinguishers and smoke alarms to make sure they work.
Remove any rugs that feet or walkers might get tripped up on, or make sure they are nonslip. Check the living space to ensure pathways are clear of debris and lighting is sufficient. The bathroom and the hallway leading to it should have some lighting at night so your wife does not have to fumble to find her way to the bathroom. Install handrails in bathrooms and halls.
Make sure windows are not drafty, and keep windows closed at night. Even if it’s relatively mild during the day, temperatures can plummet at night.
Have home emergency supplies ready. These include flashlights, a battery-operated radio, extra batteries, emergency nonperishable foods that do not require refrigeration, a nonelectric can opener, bottled water, one week’s supply of essential medicines, extra blankets and sleeping bags, a first aid kit and manual, and emergency heating equipment.
Make sure all walkways are clear outside before going out. Be especially careful of uneven, slick or dangerous surfaces. For snow and ice, consider sanding sidewalks and driveways to create a safer environment.
Check all clothing and footwear. Make sure your wife has appropriate outdoor winter clothing, including gloves, a hat, a scarf and a heavy winter coat. Check that her shoes are in good shape, have enough tread for the surface (more tread outdoors on rough surfaces and less tread indoors on carpeted or smooth surfaces) and are easy to get on and off. Shoes that are worn out should be replaced with comfortable, high-quality shoes that have a good fit.
Keep an overnight bag packed that has all the necessities in it. This bag will come in handy if a quick trip to the hospital is needed for any reason. It’s a good idea to include a sheet of paper that lists your wife’s name, address, phone number, Social Security number, medical insurance information, known illnesses and conditions, normal blood pressure, diet restrictions, and emergency contact information.
A detailed list of current medicines, including dosages and instructions for use, should also be included. If an emergency arises, all medicines should be taken to the hospital. Also, place a copy of your wife’s living will or health care advance directive in the bag. Keep all information updated and keep the bag in an accessible location.
Keep up (or start) an appropriate exercise program. Since many accidents occur because of muscle weakness and lack of coordination, it’s a good idea to help your wife stay strong through exercise. Exercising has been shown to reduce falls and accidents. But make sure to consult with her doctor before starting a program, to start slowly and to avoid outdoor exercise in bad weather.
Home Safety: www.alz.org/national/documents/brochure_homesafety.pdf
Disaster Preparedness: www.alz.org/national/documents/topicsheet_disasterprep.pdf