Is Mother’s Cold Intolerance Part Of Dementia

DEAR DR. ROACH: My mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2009, and she is taking Namenda and Aricept to help slow the advancement of the disease. I am writing because she complains of being cold all the time. She and my father keep the temperature in their house at 80 degrees, and my mother wears winter clothes, a coat and a blanket in the house. She sometimes sweats through the clothes, but we can’t persuade her to remove any layers. The house is uncomfortably hot for anyone else, and yet she says she is cold.

Her general practitioner has said that this is part of her disease. Is there anything else you have heard of that could explain this? – C.L.

ANSWER: I have seen a lot of people with dementia of all kinds, but I haven’t personally seen this degree of intolerance to cold. Her doctor may have more experience than I do, but I didn’t find much about it written in the medical literature. Every person is different, and it’s possible this is just part of how the dementia is affecting her.

However, cold intolerance to this degree suggests some alternate possibilities. The most important and likely is low thyroid levels, which can also cause a condition that looks like dementia and would certainly make dementia worse. I bet her doctor has checked for it. If not done recently, she should have her thyroid level checked.

Other, less-common causes include Addison’s disease (inability to make appropriate amounts of steroid hormones), iron deficiency, anemia from any cause and severe malnutrition.

DEAR DR. ROACH: I just read your Q and A “Blood donation can affect athletic output.” Your answer is correct, but you missed a key opportunity to educate your readers.

There is an alternative for him: Instead of donating whole blood, he can ask his local Red Cross about donating via apheresis (as I do). The apheresis process requires more time (up to two hours) and attaches the donor to a centrifuge machine, which separates the donor’s whole blood into red cells, plasma and platelets. Each of those blood products is then either bagged for collection (if needed at that time by the Red Cross) or returned to the donor’s bloodstream (if not). The donor always retains the right to specify which blood products may or may not be drawn, so your reader can always say, “I prefer not to donate reds today, but feel free to draw plasma and platelets,” if he knows he has a challenging athletic event coming up.

In my case, I usually donate platelets and plasma about every six weeks via apheresis, but normally not red cells. One advantage of not donating reds is that a donor can return to donate plasma and platelets more frequently. During my most recent donation, my nurse mentioned that there was a serious shortage of platelets but that the supply of red blood cells was fine, so she had been instructed to NOT draw reds from any donor if that donor was able to schedule another donation of platelets in the next few weeks. – M.M.

ANSWER: Thank you for the important information.

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Dr. Roach regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but will incorporate them in the column whenever possible. Readers may email questions to or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Health newsletters may be ordered from