5 Tips for Helping Older Adults Stay Warm and Healthy.
While there is nothing as serene as sitting at the window watching the snow fall, the winter season brings along its host of challenges for all ages, as well. Icy walkways, compromised driving conditions and cold temperatures can cause a wide range of injuries for anyone, especially the senior population that is at higher risk for pneumonia, flu, and low immunity.
How can older adults take better care of themselves to avoid being affected by winter-related conditions? What can caregivers do to proactively protect seniors when the temperature drops? Here we’ve gathered 5 practical tips for keeping older adults safe, warm, and healthy throughout the coldest days of the year.
1. Winterize the home.
For seniors living independently at home, as opposed to being cared for in a nursing or assisted living facility, it is important to make sure that the rooms of their private home are properly insulated against drafts and leaks. Older windows or roofing can easily let unwanted cool air inside, as well as significantly compromise energy efficiency. Investing in weather stripping, caulking, gutter cleaning, and structural inspections can help ensure that your loved one’s home is protected and safe to withstand harsh winter conditions.
2. Dress Warmly to Avoid Hypothermia
Being properly outfitted both while inside and when outdoors is the first proactive step to take against temperature-related health conditions. Hypothermia can occur when the body temperature dips too much, which is below 95 degrees F, and can cause severe health problems like heart attack, liver damage, and worse. Being out in the cold for an extended period of time or even living in a home that is not properly heated can lead to hypothermia. It’s important for caregivers to be aware of the symptoms that indicate early onset or later stages of hypothermia and be vigilant in monitoring the conditions in which older adults are spending their time.
Early signs of hypothermia include:
- Cold feet and hands
- Puffy or swollen face
- Pale skin
- Slower than normal speech or slurring words
- Being angry or confused
Later signs of hypothermia include:
- Moving slowly, trouble walking, or being clumsy
- Stiff and jerky arm or leg movements
- Slow heartbeat
- Slow, shallow breathing
- Blacking out or losing consciousness
In an effort to avoid danger when heading outdoors, older adults are advised to layer themselves with warm socks, insulated boots, a heavy coat, a warm hat, gloves and a scarf. In locales with a very frigid climate, seniors should cover all exposed skin, especially the head, and use a scarf to cover their mouth, as well.
While in the house, caregivers should monitor the temperature in the rooms to make sure it is consistently between 68-75 degrees Fahrenheit and ensure seniors are well outfitted with several layers, using warm bed sheets, and have additional blankets on hand to use, as needed.
If you confirm via thermometer that your older loved one’s temperature has dipped below 95 degrees, seek medical assistance immediately.
3. Prevent snow-related injuries.
With muscle weakness and compromised strength, older adults are alway at a high risk of losing their balance and incurring a fall-related injury. Especially in icy and snowy conditions, it’s easy for anyone to slip and fall when outdoors in the winter, so extra caution is critical for older adults when walking on wet or icy sidewalks, and especially on stairs. Encourage your loved one to use handrails whenever possible or ask a friend, family member, or neighbor for extra support while walking outside. It is extremely dangerous for seniors with balance issues or osteoporosis to be out on wet or icy surfaces that compromise their steadiness. Strenuous activities like snow shoveling put too much strain on the heart, especially for seniors with chronic heart conditions. Establishing an outdoor maintenance plan that ensures prompt snow removal, salted ice, and cleared walkways is another proactive way to maintain senior safety in the winter.
4. Plan for senior safety on the roads.
If your loved one is independent enough to drive on their own, keep in mind that winter driving can be hazardous for anyone, and especially poses higher risks for older drivers who may not drive as much as they used to or whose reflexes are not as quick as they once were. Be sure you get your loved one’s car professionally inspected and serviced before winter arrives. Changing tail lights, tires, brakes and wipers can make a big difference on winter roads and prevent dangerous accidents in inclement weather. Also make sure your loved one’s roadside assistance plan is up-to-date in case of emergencies and keep the car stocked with emergency essentials, such as batteries, snacks, flashlights, and blankets, just in case. Unless driving is absolutely necessary during severe winter conditions, it may be worthwhile to explore local options for reliable senior transportation services as a safer alternative.
5. Have an emergency plan in place.
A winter emergency plan is the best way to keep your loved one safe at home. If you are a caregiver and are unable to check on your loved one due to personal illness or emergency, have a trustworthy family member or friend on-call to step in when needed. Be sure to keep the house stocked with essentials such as non-perishable goods, flashlights, and warm blankets, in case a severe weather event occurs and leaves your loved one without electricity. Plan for someone to keep track of the supply of groceries and medications, as well as snow removal services in case a blizzard hits. By frequently checking in on an older adult, even if you can’t be there in person, and making a list of all emergency phone numbers, your loved one will be able to remain calm and know who to call for help if needed.
As you gear up for the season, it’s important to explore the ways in which wintertime can be memorable for everyone, even with being cautious and limiting time spent out of the house. Allow your older loved one to explore new hobbies and opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise be available — and don’t leave out the camera as you create memories in the process.
At Community Home Health Care, we’re here to help you all around the year. No matter the caregiving challenge, you can navigate this winter season with safety, warmth and calm. Find additional caregiver resources on our website, and explore a variety of timely topics such as medical assistance, personal care, and senior companionship.
Reach out to us today to learn more about our team of caring and experienced personal caregivers, registered nurses, and home health aides who expertly serve families just like yours.
We’re here for you and are happy to assist your family at this wonderful time of year. Give us a call at (845) 425-6555 with any questions.
Happy winter from your friends at Community Home Health Care!