Failing to Dress Appropriately for the Weather Could Be a Sign of Dementia, Experts Say

While dementias like Alzheimer’s disease are often difficult to diagnose due to the subjectiveness of the diagnostic tools available, there is a myriad of different signs and symptoms you can be on the lookout for. Different types of dementia may impact different parts of a person’s brain, but as these diseases progress, they become more pervasive and begin to cause odd side effects in many of the areas of a person’s life. Therefore, looking for any changes in behavior, no matter how unrelated they seem, could help you spot dementia in a loved one.

You might not expect the way a person dresses to be a sign that they’re developing dementia, but, in fact, the way we dress says a lot about our mental functions. Apart from each person’s unique sense of style, the way people dress can tell others about the activities they plan to do, how old they might be, where they’re planning on going, what kinds of social groups they belong to, and more.

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And if you’re paying enough attention, a person’s wardrobe may also tell you if they’re starting to become less in touch with their surroundings or losing the ability to predict the effects of their choices.

For example, a person with dementia simply might not notice that it’s raining or snowing outside, or they might forget what season it is when they go to get dressed. They might remember that it’s cold out but forget their coat and mittens anyway, or they might not even put two and two together to remember that cold weather means they will feel cold.

The inability to dress appropriately for the weather may also be a sign that a person has an altered perception of temperature or pain, which could be another sign of dementia.

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Yes, you read that right. On top of not being very in-tune with their surroundings, people with dementia often are also not very aware of their own internal temperature and other things going on in their bodies. A 2015 study used a “semi-structured caregiver questionnaire” and patient MRI to determine that their cohort of subjects with dementia experienced “altered behavioral responses” to pain and temperature when compared to healthy individuals.

“Both increased responsiveness and decreased responsiveness to pain and temperature variations were described, as well as responses that were variably increased or decreased within or between modalities,” the researchers wrote.

The team also found that the type and degree of altered perception corresponded to different types of dementia.

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“While altered temperature responsiveness was more common than altered pain responsiveness across syndromes, blunted responsiveness to pain and temperature was particularly associated with behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia (40 percent of symptomatic cases) and heightened responsiveness with semantic dementia (73 percent of symptomatic cases) and Alzheimer’s disease (78 percent of symptomatic cases),” they wrote.

Experts believe the loss of gray matter in areas of the brain responsible for processing homeostatic signals may contribute to this phenomenon in people with dementia.

Failure to dress for the weather is particularly dangerous behavior in a person with dementia, especially if they live alone, because seniors with dementia are more vulnerable to becoming victims of weather-related tragedies than most of the population.

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“People with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are especially vulnerable to cold weather risks,” says Christine Nelson, BSN, MSN, a geriatric nurse specialist. “We use cues that tell us it must be cold, such as looking outside and noticing that it’s snowing. But the person with Alzheimer’s might not put all that together.”

If you’re a caregiver for someone with dementia or if you suspect an older loved one may suffer from dementia, it’s important to help them by monitoring their clothing choices.

“People with dementia do not self-regulate their body temperature often, so you might need to monitor if their clothing is appropriate for the weather,” says the Family Caregiver Alliance.

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Show your elderly loved ones some extra care this winter by making sure they bundle up in a coat, hat, gloves, and a scarf when the weather warrants it. Winter weather outfits should also include well-insulated shoes or boots with good traction.

Don’t forget to think about the environment indoors either. “You might think keeping the house toasty is the best way to counter winter’s wrath,” says Nelson, “And that’s true to a point. But keeping the thermostat set too high can cause your loved one to overheat and sweat, and make them dehydrated.”

She recommends keeping the thermostat between 54 and 75 in the winter and providing multiple layers of clothing and blankets to help keep loved ones warm.

If you believe someone you know may be suffering from dementia, speak to a doctor about dementia screening options.

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