We all like to be in an environment with a comfortable temperature. At home it’s easy: we can simply close a door or open a window to warm or cool our home as we need to.

And we know that when the temperature of our environment become uncomfortable, it makes it harder for us to function at our most effective.

In nursing homes, however, it’s not so simple. Regulations state that nursing homes must provide “comfortable internal temperatures and ventilation”, but there are no set temperatures  specified.

A new study by the University of Wollongong has looked at how temperatures affect the behaviours of residents in aged care, and in particular they have looked at how people living with dementia are affected when temperatures drift outside the range of ‘comfortable’.

Dementia and agitation

Dementia is a collection of symptoms that are caused by disorders of the brain. Dementia can affect people’s behaviours in many different ways. One way some people with dementia behave is to become agitated or distressed.

Agitated behaviour can include constant vocalistion, pacing, and crying, and, understandably, it can be distressing for other residents and even staff.

Managing agitated behaviours for people who are living with dementia is a serious issue in nursing homes.

The study: temperatures, agitated behaviour tracked

Researchers measured temperature, humidity, air velocity, and noise in six nursing homes in south east New South Wales for 12 months.

Nursing home staff helped the researchers measure the frequency and intensity of the agitated behaviours they observed among the residents living with dementia.

The study found that agitation among people with dementia increased when temperatures varied outside a comfortable range.

The study also found that if a person living with dementia becomes agitated, it has consequences for other residents and even nursing home staff.

“Results showed that agitated behaviours not only affected the person manifesting them, but were found to be disrupting for other residents and the delivery of care.”

Managing agitated behaviour: keep a comfortable temperature

Though as we may find uncomfortable temperatures annoying, we can usually do something about it quickly and easily. We can put on a jumper, or turn on a fan.

But for people living with dementia, if their temperature becomes uncomfortable, they may not be able to do anything about it, and this ‘unmet need’ may lead them to ‘act out’ with agitated behaviours.

The researchers claim that nursing home staff can reduce the incidence of agitated behaviours by maintaining temperatures within a steady, comfortable range.

“Agitation can… be potentially reduced by limiting the range of indoor air temperature variations, and aged care providers should ensure that a thermally comfortable environment is provided in nursing homes to enhance comfort and well-being of all occupants.”

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