Have you ever wondered why your loved one with dementia is feeling cold all the time?
For those with dementia, feeling cold all the time is a common symptom of the condition, especially as it progresses.
The temperature may not actually be cold at all, yet people who experience this cold feeling just can't seem to shake the chill.
We'll cover why feeling cold all the time is a common symptom in dementia and provide some tips to warm up.
Here’s a summary of what we’ll cover in this blog:
- The body’s temperature is controlled by a process in the brain called autoregulation.
- As dementia causes changes in the brain, the body’s ability to regulate temperature is affected.
- When someone living with dementia is feeling cold all the time, they may be less likely to want to move or participate in activities.
- Carers can help someone with dementia feeling cold all the time to warm up their hands and feet by making them a warm drink to hold and by bringing them a hot water bottle.
Why is my loved one with dementia feeling cold all the time?
The body’s temperature is controlled by a process in the brain called autoregulation.
This regulates core blood flow and blood flow into the extremities of the body.
As dementia manifests in the brain, it causes chemical and physical changes.
These changes subsequently have an effect on the body’s autoregulation system and cause it to not work correctly.
Changes in the autoregulation system
When the autoregulation system has been damaged by dementia, the brain begins trying to protect the body’s core. That’s where all the vital organs are located.
Blood vessels in the extremities – the hands, feet, or up to their knees or elbows – constrict to limit blood flow.
These areas become colder to keep the warm blood flow within the body’s core.
Not to mention that many older people experience other physical changes that affect their body temperature.
Reasons why dementia can make you feel cold
- Loss of body fat means that the blood vessels are more exposed to the skin’s surface.
- Reduced mobility and being prone to falls can mean that people living with dementia spend more time sitting or lying down.
Are there risks for people with dementia feeling cold all the time?
Feeling cold all the time is an unpleasant sensation in itself, but there are some other potential consequences of this symptom.
When we feel cold, our bodies tend to tense up. It’s natural for people to want to curl their shoulders round to protect their core by keeping the heat in.
This can cause changes to posture which especially when repeated on a daily basis.
These changes can have lasting impact on a person’s ability to sit, stand and move.
When it feels impossible to warm up, people with dementia may feel less motivated to do things like eating or drinking.
They may also find it harder to move their hands and feet.
This can cause further deterioration and loss of abilities, as these brain and movement pathways aren’t being used and strengthened as they should be.
There’s more here on what are the early signs of dementia.
What can carers do to help someone warm up?
If you care for someone with dementia who is feeling cold all the time there are some things you can do to help them get warmer.
Because their body is already working hard to keep their core warm, focus your efforts on warming the extremities, such as the hands and feet.
Warming the hands and feet means that the blood vessels will start to relax and the blood will start to flow more openly into those areas.
As some of the blood begins to circulate back from the core into the arms and legs, they will begin to feel more comfortable again.
Quick ways to warm the hands and feet
- Holding a warm cup of tea
- Applying a hot water bottle or warm pillow
- Warming a towel in the tumble dryer to cover the feet
- Put on a pair of fluffy socks or gloves
While warming the extremities is important, it is advisable to try and maintain core temperature too.
How to maintain core temperature
- Wearing layers of clothing, such as a vest underneath a top and jumper
- Drinking a hot drink
- Regular movement such as standing up and sitting down or doing some chair exercises to practice mobility and strength too
- Ensure that homes are sufficiently heated, especially in winter.
Finally, remember to keep an eye on your loved one with dementia and support them to be comfortable and independent at home.
There are also some great books on dementia here for further reading.
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