Here at Companions for Seniors, our team was born and bred in the Chicagoland area – so it’s safe to say that we know a thing or two about tough winters.
The Chicago region has earned quite a reputation over the years for its cold, blustery winters, which seem to stretch from November to March. And while the winter months bring their share of unique pleasures – who isn’t a sucker for hot chocolate, after all? – they can also make life more difficult for seniors, and those who care for them.
During the winter, frigid temperatures and icy, snowy weather conditions can present a significant challenge to the elderly. Here’s how you can help your aging loved ones with seven common wintertime hazards:
1.) Staying Warm
Cold weather conditions can have a serious effect on seniors’ health. Seniors are at an increased risk for developing frostbite and hypothermia. In fact, according to research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people 65 or older account for more than half of all hypothermia deaths.
Hypothermia occurs when someone experiences a sudden drop in body temperature. As FEMA explains, older adults “tend to produce less body heat than younger people,” making it harder for them to tell when the temperature has gotten too low. Many seniors also have medical conditions, such as diabetes or thyroid problems, that can make it harder to stay warm. Experiencing hypothermia can lead to any number of serious complications, including heart attack, organ failure, or worse, according to the National Institute on Aging.
So, it’s imperative that you help your senior loved ones take the necessary steps to stay as warm as possible! Inside, encourage your older loved one to keep the thermostat set to between 68-70 degrees, and inspect to make sure that their home is properly insulated (e.g., that there isn’t a lot of heat escaping through windows or the attic). Encourage your loved one to dress warmly, and wear multiple layers, even when staying indoors.
When going outside, be sure that your loved one stays bundled up, and covers exposed skin with gloves, a hat, and a scarf. Opt for waterproof jackets and equipment if heading out on a damp day, and be sure to have your loved one change right away if their clothing gets wet.
2.) Avoiding Slips and Falls
Slips and falls can cause lasting harm to seniors at any time of year, and the risk only increases in the winter months, when ice and snow are suddenly everywhere.
To help your loved one stay safe, take appropriate steps to minimize the likelihood for spills. Outside, FEMA recommends spreading “road salt, cat litter, or sand” on all sidewalks, steps, walkways, and driveways, in order to help make these areas “as slip-free as possible” for older adults.
You should also help your loved one out by making sure that they’re always wearing sturdy shoes with a good amount of traction, or even specialized non-slip soles. Encourage your loved one to stay in place if there’s a lot of snow or ice outdoors; help out by shoveling or de-icing, so that your loved one isn’t tempted to overexert themselves.
Inside, you can also take care to help prevent the spread of slippery ice, snow, and water. Make sure that everyone takes their shoes off immediately when they come inside, and use a welcome mat (or even an old towel) to help prevent tracking moisture throughout the house. Regularly check for wet spots around the home, and be ready to wipe them up if need be.
3.) Helping Your Loved One Stay Social
Winter weather can force your aging loved ones to stay indoors for long stretches of time. As a result, it’s easy for the senior in your life to feel more socially isolated and lonely during the winter months. Over time, this can have a serious impact on your loved one’s health; many different studies have demonstrated a strong correlation between isolation and chronic health problems in older adults.
Fortunately, there are many things you can do to help your loved one get the human connection they need!
To begin with, you may want to try to spend more time with your older relatives during the winter. If possible, try to arrange a schedule among yourself, friends, and family, to ensure that your loved one never has to go for a long period without seeing a friendly face. Even a regular phone call can go a long way towards helping your loved one feel more connected.
In other cases, you may wish to turn to professional help. An in-home caregiver may be an invaluable asset for you and your aging relative, helping them out with housekeeping, meal prep, and other activities of daily living (ADLs), while also offering an open ear and great conversation. At the same time, many caregivers – including our professionals here at Companions for Seniors – offer driving services, which can help your parent safely make it to appointments, social events, religious services, and more.
4.) Managing the “Winter Blues”
Many people tend to feel a certain twinge of sadness during the winter months. For many older adults, it’s easy for these feelings to be exacerbated by isolation and health concerns. If you notice that your loved one seems depressed or lacking in energy, the culprit could be “Seasonal Affective Disorder,” or SAD, a medical condition caused by lack of exposure to sunlight.
In some cases, taking steps to spend more time with your loved one, sharing a favorite activity – maybe listening to music, going through old photo albums, or working on an art project together – can help ward off some of the wintertime blues. As we’ve already mentioned, taking steps to help your senior stay social and connected can make a big difference for their health.
In other cases, you may want to consult with a medical professional to ensure that your loved one is getting the care and attention they need. A doctor may encourage a course of action that could help make things easier for your loved one, such as light therapy or a change in diet.
5.) Taking Steps to Prevent the Flu
The influenza virus, more often than not just called “the flu,” can pose a serious health risk to older adults. According to reporting by the CDC, “people 65 years and older are at greater risk of serious complications from the flu,” due to immune system changes that happen as we get older.
As a result, according to the CDC, “people 65 years and older bear the greatest burden of severe flu disease.” In fact, it has been estimated estimated that 70-85 percent of seasonal flu-related deaths occur in people 65 years and older, as do 54-70 percent of flu-related hospitalizations.
The best way to help the senior in your life avoid the flu – and the serious health conditions that can come with it, such as pneumonia – is to encourage your loved ones to get a flu vaccine. There are specialized types of vaccines to prevent flu and pneumonia, specifically developed for older adults. As WebMD puts it:
“Getting the shot is a smart idea. It makes a big difference in hospitalization and death rates among older adults who live at home and those in nursing homes.”
6.) Eating Well
During the winter months, it may be harder for your senior loved one to eat a nutritionally balanced diet. Winter weather can make it harder to go shopping on a regular schedule, and the tendency to spend more time indoors may mean eating a smaller variety of healthful foods.
During the fall and winter months, helping your loved one with shopping and meal prep may be even more important than usual. It’s important to make sure that your loved one is eating a nutritious and well-balanced diet, complete with the vital vitamins and minerals they need to remain healthy.
In particular, bolstering the amount of vitamin D that your loved one receives may be important. During the dark, cold winter months, it’s easy for seniors to suffer from a vitamin D deficiency, which can contribute to SAD and other seasonal health concerns. Foods like salmon, eggs, and mushrooms are naturally full of vitamin D; you can also look for foods and beverages fortified with vitamin D, such as milk and breakfast cereal.
7.) Arranging for Safe Transportation
Driving in wintry conditions can be dangerous for anyone. It may be even more treacherous for seniors, who often face physical and mental changes that can make driving more difficult.
If you’re comfortable with your senior loved one driving, you may still wish to take precautions to make it as safe as possible for them to hit the road. Be sure to have their vehicle inspected, serviced, and winterized before the season hits, and double-check on their insurance coverage, AAA-membership, and any other form of protection they may have.
It may also be time to have the “driving” conversation with your aging parent or loved one. You may want to encourage them to stay off the roads during inclement weather, as a starting point. Or, it could be time to seriously discuss transportation alternatives, such as public transit, a local carpool, or driving services provided by a licensed, insured companion. Whatever it takes to make sure your loved one is safe and secure, in the winter and all year round.
Have Any More Questions? We’d Love to Hear From You
Want to talk in more depth about what the winter months may mean for your elderly loved ones? Are you looking for professional help in caring for your aging family members as the winter chill sets in?
Don’t hesitate to get in touch with Companions for Seniors to discuss the best plan of action for you and your family.
Our companions are trained to and insured to the highest level, and can help your family shoulder some of the burden of caring for an aging loved one. We are locally owned and operated in Chicago, with clients in the city and suburbs.
We help provide seniors with a higher quality of life, while also offering respite and peace of mind for a family caregiver who might need some support. Our companions help stimulate our clients physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, empowering them to live an active and enriched lifestyle.