Why does my dementia patient change the thermostat when no one is looking?

3 answers | Last updated: Sep 30, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

I presently take care of an 89 year old man that has dementia. He still resides in his home and does some things that i am not sure if it is related to his condition. When no one is looking he races to shut the blinds or turn the thermostat up or down or to turn a light off. i ask this because before he had home healthcare and was alone he turned his thermostat down in the winter months and almost froze to death. he only does such things when he thinks no one is looking. What is that mean.

Expert Answers

Jytte Lokvig, PhD, coaches families and professional caregivers and designs life-enrichment programs and activities for patients with Alzheimer's disease and related dementia. Her workshops and seminars help caregivers and families create a healthy environment based on dignity and humor. She is the author of Alzheimer's A to Z: A Quick-Reference Guide.

Dementia and Alzheimer's often exaggerate people's fixations, passions, and unusual habits. His odd behavior likely has roots in his past and is inflated by his dementia. Many elderly folks like their blinds closed or their drapes drawn. Most also like and some even need their environment to be extra warm. His behavior suggests that whomever he lived with in the past controlled his environment much to his dismay. Since he now waits until he's alone, it suggests that he used to have to sneak around to achieve his comfort level.

Thermostats are relatively new inventions to an 89-year-old person and if he was familiar with the concept in the past, because of his dementia, he has obviously now has forgotten how it works. He might forget about the existence of the thermostat if you disguise it with a picture that can be hung in front of it. You can also check with a hardware store for a lockable cover for the thermostat. You probably cannot prevent him from changing the blinds; just make sure his path is clear so he doesn't stumble while trying to reset them.

Community Answers

Sexygmaa answered...

When we moved in with my Mom she was fixated with the thermostat. Usually set at 90 or higher. We finally got her to let up by telling her to let us know when she was hot or cold and we would adjust it for her. My mom is 77. After a while she would complain and we adjusted. Sometimes we just walked there and back. She was either hot or cold. I finally found some of her little sweaters or jackets she can wear in the house. She finally has stoped about 90% of the time, but we can always tell if she gets to it. It has a flap on front and the give away is when the flap is down she has adjusted it. She has no idea what to do she just starts flipping swithches and pushing buttons. Now she is very confused and doesnt get around as well. We have been here 7mo..She would be cold at night and the next thing I hear is the snap of the front face opening and the click of her turning off the heater (which is set as a reasonable temp). Usually turning on the air cond. Until we got control it was a constant battle. It didnt help that when family comes over and mom says she is cold they, of course, run to turn the thing up. I stoped that. I sleep better now that it is under control, at least when she isnt wondering. The other problem we encounterd was the elderly man across the street told her she should keep her drapes closed so no one could see inside. We had to get it through to her that that was for the evenings, you can open them during the day. She was pinning the center. She also had a locking door knob on her bedroom door so she could lock from the inside, it was for an outside door, She also had a small pistol that had belonged to her dad. There was one time, before we came here, My twin neices came by to check on her and she got that pistol and threatened to shoot through the door (it wasnt loaded). They couldnt convince her who they were. Not long after we got here she went through a bad spell and we had to drill out the door knob to get into the bedrooom to help her. Later I found out that my Aunt, her sister, had advised her to keep the gun under the bed and the bedroom door locked. In visiting with my Aunt I realized she isnt to far behind my Mom but I think it is more Parkinson related and Im not sure that her family has noticed. I did realize that when my Aunt is here I cant leave Mom with her without one of us around.

Jytte lokvig answered...

A comment: As we age, our normal body temperature drops by a degree or two - this doesn't sound like much, but when you couple that with regular inactivity of this population, it makes a big difference. To be comfortable, most elderly people need the room temperature to be several degrees higher than your normal comfort level.

Our rule of thumb for staff in facilities is: if you're comfortable, your residents are freezing!