Is mother’s cold intolerance part of dementia?

Keith Roach
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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 any other condition that you have heard of that could explain this?


Dear C.L.: 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 any dementia worse.

I would be sure 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 (a person’s inability to make appropriate amounts of steroid hormones), iron deficiency, anemia from any cause and severe malnutrition.

Dear Dr. Roach: My 51-year-old son developed a case of shingles, which left the right side of his face paralyzed. It affected his eye and caused hearing loss.

His doctor told my son that this is called Ramsay Hunt syndrome. They could not say when the facial nerve will be back to normal. My son has been living with this paralyzed facial nerve for eight months, with no improvement.

Can you give me any information on this virus?


Dear J.E.: I’m afraid I don’t have any good news.

Ramsay Hunt syndrome, also called Herpes zoster oticus, is a complication of shingles when it affects the facial and auditory nerves.

Early treatment (within three days of the onset of rash, but preferably as soon as possible) reduces the risk of the complications you describe.

Facial paralysis is usually permanent if it hasn’t resolved by three months. Hearing loss also often is permanent. Some people also experience dizziness and vertigo.

The illness can be prevented by the shingles vaccine, which is recommended for people over 60.

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