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

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 Answer

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.