We’re all affected by the cold weather and storms winter brings each year, but older adults face unique challenges and safety hazards. Winter weather, though beautiful, can be rather unpredictable. Sudden snowstorms create unsafe walking and driving conditions, cause power outages and strand people inside their homes. When the temperature drops, older adults are more at risk of weather-related health issues and injuries. These winter safety tips will help everyone be prepared.
1. Prevent falls inside and outside of the home.
Any sidewalks or walkways should be cleared of snow and ice and covered with salt or ice melt. If your loved one can’t shovel, do it for them. Replace worn out cane tips with new ones. Put a mat down by the door to dry shoes. Remove shoes immediately upon coming inside and keep them away from any heavily-trafficked areas.
2. Layer up.
Older adults are particularly vulnerable to frostbite and hypothermia due to low metabolism and poor circulation. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people over the age of 65 are most at risk of hypothermia-related death. Dress in layers and cover all exposed skin to prevent the body temperature from dropping below 95 degrees. Warm, thick socks, a sweater, a heavy coat, a hat, gloves and a scarf are essential to wintertime dressing.
3. Monitor your diet.
During winter months, you want to be sure you and your loved ones are getting adequate nutrition. Less exposure to sunlight can lead to a vitamin D deficiency and cause health problems. Incorporate more vitamin D-rich foods like dark, leafy greens, salmon, milk and grains into your diet during this time of year. Be mindful of water intake as well. Staying hydrated keeps the body balanced and can help reduce the feelings of fatigue and general sluggishness this season is known for.
4. Stay warm inside.
Your loved one may feel tempted to keep the heat low to save money on bills, but it can potentially put their health in danger. Set the thermostat to at least 68 degrees. Keep doors closed to any unused rooms to save on heating bills. Wear socks and slippers, cover up with a blanket, and add extra covers to your loved one’s bed to stay warm at night.
5. Winterize vehicles.
If your loved one drives, make sure their vehicle is ready for winter. Stash snow removal tools like an ice scraper or snow brush. Make sure wiper blades are in good condition and the vehicle has plenty of wiper fluid. Stow a hat, scarf, gloves, blanket and a portable electronic charger handy in the event of an emergency. If your loved one has to go somewhere while the roads are bad, offer to drive them instead.
6. Stock up.
In the event of a major winter storm, you’ll want your loved one to be prepared to be snowed in. Make sure their home is stocked with everything they need to go several days without power: non-perishable food, bottled water, blankets, flashlights and a battery-powered radio. If they take medication, make sure they have enough on hand to last for a few days.
7. Beat the winter blues.
When we think of “winter safety,” we usually think of physical safety. Mental health, however, is just as important. Less exposure to sunlight and more time spent indoors can lead to feelings of isolation and depression. Additionally, wintertime can also exacerbate sundowning symptoms. Make sure your loved one has support and maintains contact with family, friends and neighbors.
8. Get a flu shot.
The flu is often a serious matter for older adults. The immune system weakens with age, putting those over the age of 65 at a greater risk for serious flu complications. In fact, it’s estimated that between 71% and 85% of seasonal flu deaths occurred in people 65 years and older.
If your family utilizes a homecare service, plan ahead with your agency and caregiver. Be in contact with your loved one during severe weather, and make sure you have contact information for their friends and neighbors.
You have a responsibility to help your loved one be prepared for unpredictable winter weather, especially if they live alone. But if you’re worried about their health, it may be time to look into in-home care. A homecare agency can visit with your loved one and provide assistance by preparing meals, monitoring medication or even shoveling the snow. You’ll be able to rest assured knowing that your loved one is receiving the care they need.
Contact Bluebird to learn more about how we can help you and your family this winter.