Keeping Seniors Safe During Winter
We are coming into "Winter Wonderland" season, which for many of us means sparkling snow, holiday decorations and cozy nights by the fire with a mug of hot chocolate. But colder temperatures can present safety challenges, especially for older adults. This year has already seen the "Halloween Eve" storm in the Northeast, with seniors sheltering in high school gyms and fire stations during power outages that lasted for days and even weeks.
It’s important to be aware of seasonal hazards:
- Hypothermia. Exposure to cold may result in a dangerous drop in body temperature. Common health conditions and some medications raise the risk for seniors.
- Increased risk of falls. Slipping on icy steps or a snowy walkway can result in serious injury.
- Carbon monoxide illness or fire from improperly used space heaters or generators. These devices can be dangerous when incorrectly installed and operated.
- Seasonal depression. Inactivity and isolation may result when cold weather means fewer opportunities for exercise and social contact.
If your senior loved ones live in a climate where winter storms and cold weather occur, take steps to keep them safe. Winterize their home, check heating systems and help them prepare for weather-related emergencies. If loved ones drive, help prepare an emergency kit for the car. Educate yourself and your loved ones about the symptoms of hypothermia.
When family members can’t be there to help elderly relatives, it’s important to have a backup. For many families, in-home care provides the extra measure of security to keep loved ones safe and comfortable, no matter what the weather.
During winter months, professional in-home caregivers support senior health and well-being of clients by:
Preventing hypothermia. As we grow older, we become more sensitive to the cold. Though seniors are at higher risk of hypothermia, common health problems and some medications may cause them to be less aware that their body temperature is dropping. An indoor temperature that feels fine to younger people may be unsafe for older adults. In-home caregivers monitor senior clients for signs of hypothermia, and help them remain warm and comfortable, perhaps with a sweater, thermal underwear and an extra blanket for the bed.
Helping your loved one avoid “cabin fever.” For homebound seniors, winter can be a time of boredom, isolation and resulting depression. The caregiver can transport your loved one to his or her usual activities. When treacherous road conditions make outings unsafe, caregivers provide companionship and pastimes at home, such as books, crafts or favorite games.
Eliminating fall hazards. In-home caregivers keep the home clean and in good order, and remove snow from stairways and walkways. The caregiver can bring in the mail and newspaper, and perform any other outdoor tasks that might be unsafe in slippery conditions.
Performing personal care tasks. Caregivers help senior clients with bathing, grooming and other hygiene care. In wintertime, this often includes extra attention to the skin, as cold outdoor conditions and dry indoor air can cause chapping and irritation.
Keeping your loved one safe during power outages. Windstorms and heavy snow knock out power for millions each year. Darkness and cold endanger frail seniors, especially those with dementia and those who rely on oxygen, power mobility devices or other electrical medical equipment. The caregiver can be sure your loved one is safe at home, or provide transportation to a warming center or other designated shelter.
Encouraging compliance with healthcare instructions. The caregiver can take your loved one to doctor appointments and the pharmacy, provide medication reminders, and grocery shop for ingredients to prepare nutritious meals and snacks. Physical activity is a health and mood boost year-round, and the caregiver can take your loved one for a walk in an indoor mall or help with a home exercise program.
Home care provides peace of mind for family caregivers
It’s a caregiver's nightmare: The top news story of the day is a huge blizzard in Ohio where your mother lives—and you live in Palm Springs. Why isn’t Mom's phone working? Is the power out? Will neighbors check up on her? Who can you call to get help?
Home care services let families rest assured that their loved one is safe with a caring companion—no matter what weather surprises winter brings.
The National Institute on Aging offers a free online brochure to help seniors and caregivers avoid hypothermia.
Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website for tips to prepare for winter storms and cold temperatures.
Right at Home, Inc. is a national organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for those we serve. We fulfill that mission through a dedicated network of locally owned, franchised providers of in-home care services.