Chilling temperatures and treacherous snow and ice can pose serious problems for seniors and their caregivers during the winter months. Consider using the following pointers to adapt your loved one’s care plan, minimize health risks and ensure you’re prepared for anything Old Man Winter may bring your way:
Hypothermia Each year, half of Americans who die from hypothermia are at least 65 years old. Older individuals are particularly susceptible to cold weather because they have less body fat, less efficient circulation and a slower metabolism. A senior can even become hypothermic while indoors, so the thermostat should never be set below 65 degrees for a person who is 75 or older. Make sure that your loved one is warmly dressed when inside the house as well as outside.
If an aging loved one is struggling to pay their heating bills or needs financial assistance to weatherize their home this winter, consider helping them apply for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). LIHEAP is a federally funded assistance program that helps low-income families stay warm during winter and cool during summer. To find out more information about your state’s eligibility requirements and how to apply, visit the LIHEAP Clearinghouse website.
Dehydration Seniors are especially prone to dehydration because they tend to eat and drink less than younger people, thus they consume less water. In general, people also feel less thirsty during the winter and are more prone to not drinking as much as they should. Make sure your elderly loved one is drinking consistently. Monitoring their water intake can be an easy way to guarantee they are getting enough fluids. Read: Hydration Tips for Seniors
Ice and Snow Sidewalks slick with ice and snow pose a serious falling hazard for an elderly person. Make sure that your loved one’s porch, driveway, sidewalk, etc. have been thoroughly salted and shoveled. If they are at all unsteady on their feet, it’s best to have someone else handle these tasks, like a neighbor or an outside service. To maximize a senior’s stability, be sure that they have well-fitting shoes with non-slip soles and new treads on any mobility aids that they use.
Disaster Kits Winter storms can be fierce enough to knock down power lines and confine seniors to their homes. It is essential to make sure your loved one is equipped with a disaster kit to help them get through these times. Each kit should include enough nonperishable food and water for several days (at least 3 gallons of water per person per day), a can opener, a few days’ worth of any necessary medication, a flashlight, a battery-powered radio, extra batteries, and first-aid essentials.
Space Heaters While these devices can provide much-needed warmth during the colder months, precautions must be taken so these sources of heat don’t become health hazards. If the senior uses a gas-powered heater or generator, make sure there is a functional carbon monoxide detector in their home. If they use electric heaters, inspect all power cords for fraying and get rid of any damaged devices. Keep all heaters away from flammable materials, such as cloth and paper, and make sure to regularly test and place new batteries in all smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors.
Clothing Mittens, scarves, sweaters, hats and coats are a few must-have articles of clothing for seniors living in colder climates. Even when an elderly person is indoors, they should be dressed in warm, comfortable layers, so they can take items off if they are too hot or put more on if they are too cold.
Electric Blankets Electric blankets can keep seniors toasty, but they must be used very carefully to avoid burns, electric shocks and even fires. If a senior owns an electric blanket or mattress pad that is more than a few years old, it may be time to replace it. The coils inside the blanket as well as the power cords and controls can get damaged over time, increasing the risk of accident or injury. Look for a model that has an automatic shutoff feature and be sure to use and store electric blankets responsibly.
Botek, Anne-Marie. “How to Protect Elders from Frigid Winter Weather.” How to Protect Elders from Frigid Winter Weather, 2018, www.agingcare.com/articles/cold-weather-protection-for-seniors-148625.htm.