Dementia and the Thermostat

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Charlie and I live in New Hampshire. If you have been following the news you will know this is one of New England's snowiest, coldest winters in recorded history.

I always retire for the night between 10:00 and 11:00 p.m. Charlie, because he sleeps in until 1:00 to 3:00 p.m., turns in much later.

The last thing I tell him when I go to bed is, "Do not touch the thermostat." Unfortunately, he sometimes forgets that he is not to touch it, and sets out to "close down the house" before he retires. Old habits die hard.

I awoke this morning with my nose and toes freezing. When I checked the indoor-outdoor thermometer I learned it was minus 18 degrees outside and 55 degrees in the house. The wind was blowing, making the chill factor around minus 30 degrees.

I immediately looked at the furnace thermostat and discovered Charlie had not only turned it down to 58 degrees, but had also turned on the air conditioning fan. Needless to say, I lost my cool in more ways than one.

I went to his room and made him get out of bed at 8:00 a.m. so that he could appreciate what it felt like to exist in a house that cold. He had no recollection of touching the thermostat. So we just laughed and said, "The mouse must have done it." That's my usual reaction when things mysteriously happen around here, rather than laying the blame on Charlie.

We were lucky the water pipes didn't freeze.

It's now 2:00 p.m. and the house has finally reached a comfortable temperature, but my dilemma is, how do I prevent this from happening again?

The only solution I can come up with is to place a large sign around the thermostat with big red letters saying DO NOT TOUCH! But given his mental state, I'm not sure this will mean anything to Charlie.

The alternative is for me to start keeping his crazy hours and tucking him in before I go to bed. That is not going to happen.

The other night he tried to change the TV channel after I went to bed. The result was that the TV cable and Netflix systems were really messed up. It took me some time (and much frustration) to get them working again.

Anything that requires a little technical know-how is completely baffling to Charlie, but he doesn't know what he doesn't know. He is always fiddling with things, something he was always very good at and took pride in doing well. So far he has not tried tinkering with the car. That would be the last straw.

As it is, I am thinking about advertising him on eBay. Any takers?

Marlis describes herself as a “Gramma who loves technology and has a lot to say.” She blogs about whatever catches her interest: food, books, family and more. For AgingCare.com, she writes about the issues facing the elderly and her experiences caring for her husband, Charlie, who suffers from dementia.

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174 Comments

OUCH, Marla............oh my goodness !! I have a suggestion. In doctor's offices I have seen a clear plastic cover placed over thermostats. The main reason is to keep patients from fiddling with the thermostat. I think there is a little lock on it, I suppose something like a tiny padlock. Anyway, it all surely makes life interesting, and far from boring. Blessings to you, Marla.
I went thru the same thing with my late husband. Cover one of those plastic things with decorative contact paper. Then buy a cheap thermostat or ask a local heating guy to save one he replaced. Mount that one on a different wall for your loved one to fiddle with to their heart's content. You can also get another remote, take out the batteries and let them fool with. It is very difficult living with this 24/7/365 for both of you. God be with you.
Marla, I am also a veteran of the Thermostat War. It is probably the thing that causes me the most stress. My mother does just the opposite of what Charlie did. She gets up and cranks the heat up to 80+, so I wake up with the covers kicked off and feeling dried out and miserable from heat. Not a good way to wake up. The first thing I do is slam the vents closed and check to make sure the rabbits aren't roasted.

I've thought about the lock boxes, but it wouldn't work. There would be no peace until I removed it or she shattered it with a hammer. Responding to it an hour at a time is the only thing I can do right now. It's not fun.