Jack Walker Published

Safeguarding Against Winter Wandering In People With Dementia

A person in a red jacket trucks through heavy snowfall in Amherst, New York, United States.
Individuals with dementia can face added safety risks due to winter weather like the storms that swept West Virginia this weekend.
Jeffrey T. Barnes/AP Photo

As another West Virginia winter roars on, state and national specialists remind residents to reinforce safety precautions for their loved ones with dementia.

Individuals with dementia face more safety risks in periods of inclement weather, like the snowstorms that swept the Midwest and East Coast this weekend. Wandering away from home without preparing for low temperatures and icy conditions can increase the risk of falling, getting lost or becoming seriously injured outside.

The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) recently shared tips for taking care of individuals with dementia during the winter.

The AFA underscored the importance of keeping watch over home exit ways and developing a customized safety plan for each individual. These plans should take into account the makeup of a person’s home, the times of day when their condition worsens and the locations they might visit while wandering.

Taking advance precautions during spells of intense weather helps protect West Virginia residents with dementia, according to Joanie Maloney, family caregiver program manager for Kanawha Valley Senior Services.

Maloney explained that wandering can occur year-round, but that “it’s just a lot more on the dangerous side if the weather is extremely cold or extremely hot.”

Dressing loved ones with dementia appropriately for the weather — regardless of whether they plan to go outside — is another way family caretakers can reduce the risks of unexpected wandering, she said.

By providing these individuals cold-weather clothing and foot coverings, Maloney said that caretakers safeguard their loved ones from frostbite and other weather-related risks associated with cold-weather wandering.

“Definitely go ahead and dress them for the occasion,” she said.

Maloney added that the winter months are a good time to reinforce house locks and at-home safety features, ensuring that precautions are in place to support loved ones during the winter months and beyond.

“Safety is key,” she said. “ No one ever wants their loved one to be exposed to any kind of harsh weather, especially the cold.”