Mid-January usually ushers in the real start of winter and it is important to keep safety tips in mind, especially for those who have reached the age of being called a "senior." Ice, snow and cold temperatures can make life challenging for anyone. Slippery sidewalks and cold weather can cause a wide range of injuries and illnesses, especially for our aging loved ones.
Finding home care to assist your loved one on a regular basis can help keep them safe during any season. Check out the tips below for preventing common cold weather dangers to older adults.
Prepare outfits appropriate for the weather. Dress in layers to avoid allowing body temperature to drop below 95 degrees, which can cause hypothermia. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than half of hypothermia-related deaths were of people 65 and older. Be sure to wear warm socks, a sweater, a heavy coat, warm hat, gloves and a scarf to cover the mouth and protect the lungs. If you confirm via thermometer that your older loved one’s temperature has dipped below 95 degrees, seek medical assistance immediately.
Avoid slipping on ice. Icy, snowy roads and sidewalks make it easy to slip and fall. “Unfortunately, falls are a common occurrence for senior citizens, especially during the winter months,” said Dr. Stanley Wang, a physician at Stanford Hospital in Palo Alto, California. Often, these falls can cause major injuries such as hip and wrist fractures, head trauma and major cuts and bruises. While younger people usually recover relatively quickly from such injuries, older adults may face complications, which Wang says are a leading cause of death from injury in men and women ages 65 and older. For that reason, he recommends our aging loved ones wear shoes with good traction and non-skid soles, and stay inside until the roads are clear. Replacing a worn cane tip can make walking easier, and older people are advised to take their shoes off immediately upon entering the indoors, as wet soles and/or wet floors can lead to slipping.
Check the car. Driving during the winter can be hazardous for anyone. But it is especially dangerous for older people, who may not drive as often anymore or whose reflexes may not be as quick as they once were. Get their cars serviced before wintertime hits. Checking the oil, tires, battery and wipers can make a big difference on winter roads. Another option is to hire a home care company like Favor to take your loved one to doctor’s appointments, the pharmacy, to buy groceries, run errands, etc.
Prepare for power outages. Winter storms can lead to power outages. Make sure your older loved one has easy access to flashlights and a battery-powered radio in case the power goes out. Stockpile warm blankets. Longer power outages can spoil the food in your refrigerator and freezer so keep a supply of non-perishable foods that can be eaten cold on hand. If the power does go out, older adults should wear several layers of clothing as mentioned earlier, including a hat.
Prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Using a fireplace, gas heater or lanterns can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning. Ensure your aging loved one’s safety by checking the batteries on their carbon monoxide detector and buying them an updated one if necessary.
Be certain to get enough nutrition during winter. Lack of exposure to sunlight contributes to Vitamin D deficiency, which can cause health problems. Foods such as milk, grains, tuna and salmon should be part of the diet, especially this time of year. Ask your family physician if there are any supplements that should be taken to strengthen bones or to ensure proper nutrition during this time. It is also important to stay hydrated during the winter. Water keeps body fluids balanced and skin healthy. It gives you energy, helping to prevent daytime fatigue and sluggishness – an issue for many during the dark, dreary winter months.
Fight the wintertime blues. As it can be more difficult (and dangerous) to get around during winter, seniors have less contact with others, which can bring about feelings of loneliness and isolation. Seasonal depression is very real and it is especially important to check in on your aging loved ones as often as possible. A short, daily phone call can make a big difference. You can also arrange for a check-in system with friends and relatives so that someone visits or phones a few times a week. Technology can help with social media channels like Facebook and video chat, such as FaceTime and Skype, to keep in touch even when you are miles apart.
The most important tip to keep in mind during the colder months is to encourage older people to ask for help. Whether they need to clear their property of snow and ice or stock up on essential groceries, they should feel free to ask a family member or neighbor or hire a professional. Wintertime certainly poses challenges for older adults, but with a bit of planning and awareness, they will stay healthy and experience the joys of springtime soon enough.