The dog days of summer can complicate caregiving. For my 90-year-old dad, whose progressing Alzheimer's disease makes him sensitive to extremes in temperature, the typical 110-degree Phoenix weather is too hot to go outside, but an overly air-conditioned room is too cold. The result for my father is low motivation, appetite and activity levels that aren't good for his health. Here are some of the creative ways I use to keep up with my dad's health care, socialization and exercise needs during the extreme heat of summer, even as Alzheimer's is changing his capabilities:
- Use mobile health care. During milder weather I purposely like to get Dad out of the house for appointments because it gives him cognitive stimulation and social interaction. Not so in the sizzling summer. Instead, we take advantage of our nurse practitioner, who makes house calls, as well as mobile labs that come to the house to collect blood or urine samples, and other services. I also postpone nonessential appointments on particularly hot days or when air quality is bad.
- Bring in friends, services & exercise. I invite friends over for meals or short visits, so Dad and I have opportunities to socialize. Dad's massage therapist makes house calls, and his exercise guru, Donna, comes twice a week, too. Our pool is finally warm enough for Dad, so Donna has started working with him in it. On weekends I do lots of exercises with him, using elastic exercise bands, hand weights and household items. We have one step in our house, and we go up and down it multiple times; even getting up from a chair and sitting down 10 times is good exercise for him. He helps me with chores, such as folding laundry. Walking from room to room and holding the heavy garage door open are other ways he keeps moving and using his muscles indoors. Dad can still ride his exercise bike, so we make good use of it in the summer.
- Watch fluid intake. Even though Dad stays inside most of the summer, increased fluids are still necessary. He doesn't feel thirst like he used to, so we frequently remind him to drink. As I shared in a previous post, we also supplement with electrolyte packets added to water (check with your doctor before using these). I'm a big fan of insulated cups with straws - Dad will drink more with a straw.
- Get your four-legged friends involved. Daily walks are still important - for both pets and their owners - but remember that hot weather is hard on animals, too. Make sure their water bowls are full, and don't forget that hot pavement can burn paws. Jackson, Dad's service dog, has a lovely set of red and black rubber booties that he wears when he accompanies Dad out in the heat - a fashion statement that's oh so practical.
Amy Goyer is AARP's family, caregiving and multi-generational issues expert. She spends most of her time in Phoenix, where she lives and takes care of her father. She is the author of AARP's Juggling Work and Caregiving. Follow Amy on Twitter @AmyGoyer and on Facebook.