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How you can take extra precautions for people with dementia during Arizona's extreme heat

Coverage of aging is supported in part by AARP Arizona

With temperatures expected to peak around 114 degrees later this week, it’s an especially risky time for those living with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias. That’s because wandering is a common behavior among this population. 

Wandering can be life-threatening any time of the year, but summers in Phoenix are especially dangerous. Kinsey McManus is with the Alzheimer’s Association Desert Southwest Chapter. 

She says warning signs include forgetting familiar places or talking about fulfilling old obligations.

"Also, something we often see is wanting to go home when they're already in their home," McManus said.

McManus says it’s important to have a routine in place and ensure basic needs, like thirst, are met. 

"So someone who becomes disoriented, they're very thirsty, that may lead them to walk away from the home because if they can't remember what room has water, how to get that for themselves, they may end up leaving the home to seek it out," McManus.

She says the heat, even at night, can exacerbate behaviors, including agitation and wandering.

"As the summer progresses, we know it really does not cool off at night, which means the heat can also wake someone up in the middle of the night. And so people with Alzheimer's and other types of dementia can easily be disoriented, not in touch with time or place," McManus said.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, roughly six in 10 people living with the disease wander. McManus says it's important to have an emergency plan in place if that happens. 

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KJZZ senior field correspondent Kathy Ritchie has 20 years of experience reporting and writing stories for national and local media outlets — nearly a decade of it has been spent in public media.