Family and Caregiver Schizophrenia Discussion Forum

Son won't use heater

Curious if anyone has an idea… my son has been ill for 11 years and continues to decline. It is very cold but he won’t use a heater because he thinks the weather temperature will be very hot in the spring if he does.

Any ideas to encourage him to stay warm at night? He only uses one blanket, and one layer of clothing. our temps are in the low 30’s. He lives in an RV, so his indoor temperature must be close to the outdoor temperature without any heating.

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Hi, welcome back. I am sorry your son’s illness is not under control yet. Thinking about your situation, the only way I can answer or relate is to equate what your son is going through with times I tried to get my son to do the right thing for his health and welfare. Honestly I stayed on him relentlessly, but not in an aggressive or angry way, just constant gentle and quiet prodding with spaces in between each time I did it.

I would use key sentences that highlighted my concerns. Like with my son one instance was he used to sleep in the closet fully clothed with hat boots and winter coat in the middle of summer. He had a bed outside of the closet, he had plenty of cool clothing and things to change but for some reason he did what he did. I just kept saying it’s too hot for all of that, don’t you feel hot?, it’s summer, at least take off your coat, at least come out of the closet, on and on and on, I never raised my voice or threatened anything, I just did it every day, for the longest he never responded back, weeks went by and then one day he was sleeping on his bed, still fully dressed with boots and coat but on his bed. I commented how happy I was he chose to do that and asked if he noticed how much more comfortable the bed was than the closet floor. He mumbled something, he never said much at all. Then about a week later he was in bed with no coat just clothes and boots, I walked in and started to remove his boots, thinking he was asleep, he recoiled and wouldn’t let me but the next night he took his boots off himself. It was a grueling long process that I think took so long because our ill children take literally forever to process a thought we give them that is different than what their brain is telling them.

I think in a way I forced my voice into his relentless thoughts giving him different thoughts to consider over time. I don’t know if I’m right or if this would work with anyone else other than my son. It’s all I have to offer. I had the benefit of my son living with me so I could be heard anytime. Today my son still sleeps in street clothes in his bed but no coats, no shoes and I can live with that.

One last thought is -would there be a chance that your son would accept using an electric blanket? also I found that if you put the thick plastic protective covers over mattresses they are SO much warmer just doing that. Not sure if any of this can help just tossing out my 2 cents. I always wish you and your son the very best going forward. Merry Christmas.


Hi Catherine,

Thanks for your thoughtful response. I am certainly willing to ask my son if he would consider using an electric blanket. I truly appreciate you sharing your experience with your son. That was very kind of you.

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I wonder if you met his concern for affecting spring weather by asking what sort of cover he would like so he could remain warm without affecting the weather for spring if he would have an answer. I try to use LEAP for such problems and often my son will have a solution.

A sleeping bag could be one idea - today’s camping sleeping bags are usually rated for lower temperatures, they are washable and are not very expensive.

Just an idea.

Edited to add LEAP Listen, Empathize, Agree and Partner

Another excellent idea, Hope! Will try that tonight. Thanks so much!

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Update… last night a second blanket was accepted. The sleeping bag was there but not sure if it was used, My son invited me to bring it home today, so I did. Tonight I stopped by with a warm quilt, and he allowed me to cover him up with it.

I did ask today what he could do to stay warm. He believes walking helps. He was shivering this afternoon, and his hands were very cold.

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Hi a loving mom. My MI partner has historically had problems with appropriate dress too (wool sweaters in 80 degree weather, jeans and a tee shirt when it’s 22 degrees outside) as well as obliviousness to dangers of cold when he’d have episodes and lock himself outside in his van to sleep in the middle of a freeze. His delusions didn’t play much into it as your son’s seem to, just obliviousness to external and environmental hazards I think. Fortunately, he’s partial to a thick wool blanket, and as somebody who has spent a lot of time camping in the woods and spent a good amount of time on the water, I fully advocate for ANYTHING wool if he will accept it. For some of us ‘survivalists’ (:wink:) out there, it can and has been the difference between life or death in many cases… the sleeping bag is also an excellent idea.
Often times when treating mild hypothermia, when we were unable to get access to a heat source to warm the body thoroughly from the outside (hot shower, wood stove or fire with all wet clothing removed), sometimes it was feasible to make warm liquids and try and warm from the inside as well. Will your son accept food or beverage from you? Could you take over hot beverages in a thermos maybe?
I might suggest leaving extra clothing, wool hats (hats are a necessity. Keeps most of the body heat loss in) and mittens and socks, down coat or blankets (down is also a very effective insulator). My guess is that if you leave enough warm stuff easily accessible, if he’s lucid enough he may utilize them on his own. Also, he is actually on to something: to prevent onset of hypothermia when I’ve done what are called ‘polar bear swims’ (yeah, it’s a thing in some areas along the coastlines of the North Atlantic. People get in their bathing suits in January and February and take a plunge in the frigid ocean. We have paramedics on hand in case of cardiac incidents and such) But once you take the plunge, it’s the practice to wrap a towel or thin blanket and run laps to keep the heart going and the blood circulating and create heat from muscles. (I’m not saying it’s smart, just saying it’s done and it’s a tradition. Ideally you’ve a warm car with the heat blasting ready waiting for you to strip down and crawl into when your done running your laps with hot chocolate or tea waiting!)
So… all that being said, most folks who have read me in the forum know I’m not a strong advocate of involving police if it can be avoided, but I have in the past called emergency response one time when my MI partner had locked himself in his van during a -12 degree cold snap. He had his wool blanket and I checked on him every 15-20 minutes. But I panicked when I couldn’t get him to respond at all (no movement) and there was no evidence on the windows (fog on the inside usually) that there was a body emanating heat or breath inside. So… that fear is entirely real and gripping. It was the police who came and after some deliberation we decided to get the slim Jim (unlocks car doors) and just as we brought it to the van he sat up and rolled the window down! I was practically in tears… and then choked with relief. MAN… some days I’m not sure if it’s ME that’s not going to make it due to a cardiac incident of my own! F***! LOL!
I’m so sorry for your worries. It’s so tough. Thanks for reading and I hope the best for you and your son. It’s a struggle…

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Thank you for sharing your experience, Wisdom. My son will not accept any food or drinks… he is fiercely independent. And yes, there have been many incidents of his temperature gauge being off… I can go at night and deliver an extra blanket; he has accepted this the past two nights. Now my biggest fear is that he is starving himself. No evidence of food being eaten (no empty chip bags or anything else in his garbage can.)

I’m glad he has accepted a second blanket from you the last two nights. Before you had said he enjoyed shopping for himself, does he still shop for himself?

Has he stopped eating before?

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Hi, Hope! Thanks for you interest. I do not remember any time previous when my son was not eating. He smokes all day long, and drinks coffee… these both impair his appetite. He was talking about eating yogurt yesterday… maybe he is eating one cup of yogurt each day? But there were not any food wrappers in his garbage can… I will check his inside garbage as well. I can ask him (what he is eating these days)this afternoon when I stop by. He is anorexic thin, and shivering whenever I have seen him recently during the day. He was not trembling last night when I delivered the blanket.

Yes… his plan was to walk to the grocery store daily, and this was tied to keeping warm by walking.

Its so worrisome when they stop eating and get anorexic thin, my son did this last winter. Is something open at night near where he lives that he could be walking there and discarding the food wrappers before he gets home?

I’m glad you are keeping a close eye on him, its a dangerous combination reducing calories and not keeping the rv warm.

Hope, I agree. I am flabbergasted that he doesn’t meet criteria for being gravely disabled. I am praying a lot.

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Wool. And down. If it will be accepted…
Have you had another conversation about the alternate heating? Discuss how maybe it’s ok to use the alternate forms of heat,

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I know that CBT won’t help much with delusions, but I don’t think I’ve seen an answer that suggests you ask him how being warm in the winter would affect the weather in the spring.

Your son’s worldview and perceptions have to change. As long as he really believes that he can affect the weather it would be hard to change his behavior. But if he begins to doubt the fact he might change. Doubt might set in if he doesn’t see a logical connection about how he can affect the weather.

I stopped by again last night, and the quilt and fleece blanket I had left for him was unused in his closet. He was able to allow me to cover him up with them, which I am grateful for. I am also grateful that he lives ten minutes away.

The system that is supposed to help people with mental disabilities is failing him. They tell me that I need to let him experience the consequences of his actions… this is hard for me to understand.

I am interested in learning more about challenging my son’s belief that he can change the weather. Could you please say more about that? I have tried gently challenging it, to no avail. What exactly would you say? Thanks for your response.

Will do. :blush: Thanks for your continuing encouragement and ideas.

May I ask, which agency is telling your that your son must experience the consequences of his action?

How does he think the weather happens? What causes the weather? I.e. why is spring warmer one year than in another?

You could find a table of the average spring temperatures for the past 20 years and show him that they go up and down.

Would he be interested in taking an online meteorology class? (The Basics Everyone Should Know) (39 min.) (How Meteorologists Come Up With Your Weather Forecast) (1 hour of instruction)

Both are $12

Maybe he’d be interested in understanding how exactly using a heater would tie into it. More than likely he find that some much bigger forces are at play and that the heater can’t have much of an effect.