For seniors and family caregivers, the winter months can offer beauty, peace, and tranquility — as well as some major challenges. On the one hand, it can be cozy to watch snow fall outside through a window, or gather together with friends and family to celebrate during the holiday season. On the other hand, the winter months can pose serious health challenges for seniors, even for those older adults who prefer to stay indoors.
This winter, remember that cold weather safety doesn’t stop and start at the front door! It’s important to make sure the seniors in your life are able to stay safe, healthy, and comfortable, both indoors and out.
In particular, this means finding and maintaining a household temperature that is going to be safe for your elderly loved one.
If you’ve spent any amount of time caring for an older adult, you may have experienced the unique feeling of walking into a room that is positively frigid, or swelteringly hot. Seniors can have trouble regulating their body temperatures and responding to changing conditions — and spending too much time in a location that is too hot or too cold can have an impact on your loved one’s health and well-being.
What’s a healthy household temperature for seniors, and what other steps can you take to help make sure your eldely loved one is safe and comfortable throughout the frosty winter months? Let’s explore these important wintertime FAQs:
Why Staying Warm Is So Important for the Elderly
As the National Institute on Aging (NIA) explains:
“Older adults can lose body heat fast—faster than when they were young. Changes in your body that come with aging can make it harder for you to be aware of getting cold. A big chill can turn into a dangerous problem before an older person even knows what’s happening.”
Chronic conditions like diabetes or thyroid problems can make it harder for seniors to maintain a healthy body temperature. Many seniors also take medication that can lead to dehydration, making it harder to stay warm. In other cases, older adults may be dealing with mobility loss or memory problems, which can make it harder to take action if they’re starting to feel uncomfortable.
As a result, many older adults may set their thermostat as low as possible to save energy and money, without realizing just how much of an effect this may have on their health.
For example? One prominent European study has suggested that living in cold conditions can put seniors at increased risk of suffering a fall or accident.
What’s more, older adults are particularly susceptible to hypothermia, which occurs when a person’s body temperature drops too low. Generally, hypothermia is said to set in when a person’s body temperature is 95 degrees or lower. Hypothermia can lead to frightening short-term side effects, including shivering, cold extremities, mood swings, loss of energy, and difficulty with movement. If left untreated, hypothermia can have serious consequences, and may lead to a heart attack, kidney problems, or liver damage. If you suspect a loved one may be experiencing hypothermia, contact 9-1-1 immediately, and take steps to help them warm up, like serving them a warm beverage, moving them to a warmer place, and providing warm blankets and clothing.
What Is the Ideal Indoor Temperature for Seniors?
Many experts recommend keeping the thermostat set to 68-70 degrees Fahrenheit or warmer during the winter months. One heating and air conditioning company recommends maintaining indoor temperature between 68 and 74 degrees; similarly, the researchers behind that European study recommend that seniors keep the temperature at 68 degrees or warmer.
This mid-level temperature is something of a “Goldilocks” zone — not too hot, and not too cold. Too much higher, and your loved one could be dealing with dry, hot air, which can promote bacteria growth and lead to illness; too much lower, and your loved one may be at risk of hypothermia and other chilly complications.
Of course, it’s important to check in with your senior loved one and see how they’re feeling. Remember that there are all sorts of other ways to help your loved one stay warm in the winter, which we’ll detail below.
To promote a more comfortable living environment, you may also want to take some basic steps, like equipping your loved one with a humidifier (to counter the effects of dry air), adding houseplants and flowers in their space (which can help purify the air in the home), and making sure that their air vents and furnace filters are free of dust, debris, and allergens (which can make rooms feel stuffy and make it harder to breathe).
What Else Can You Do to Help Your Senior Loved One Stay Warm?
Families have been fighting over the thermostat, seemingly for as long as they’ve been around! While finding the right temperature for your loved one’s home is important, there are also plenty of other ways you can help make sure your loved one is able to stay warm and comfortable throughout the winter:
- Check insulation throughout the home. Before the winter chill settles in, help your loved one inspect their space to make sure that they have sufficient insulation in their attic, crawlspaces, and other areas where heat may escape.
- Seal windows and doors; look for and eliminate drafts. Make sure your loved one’s house isn’t losing heat through windows and doors. If you notice major cracks around windows and doors, it may be time to apply new caulk or weatherstripping. In other cases, it may help to keep the blinds and curtains closed to help trap heat in, or even roll a towel and place it at the bottom of the door to prevent drafts.
- Encourage your loved one to bundle up in layers. It’s important to encourage seniors to dress warmly. One idea may be to encourage your loved one to wear a sweater or heavy robe which they can take on and off as needed. Socks, slippers, long underwear, and night caps can also help.
- Provide lots of blankets. In addition to being cozy and comforting, laying out extra blankets in the wintertime can help your loved one remain warm. Put additional blankets out on the sofa or your loved one’s favorite chair, and add extra bedding so they can sleep warmly at night.
- Help your loved one eat well and remain hydrated. It’s important for seniors to keep up their good nutrition and hydration habits in the winter. As the NIA explains: “Make sure you eat enough food to keep up your weight. If you don’t eat well, you might have less fat under your skin.” Experts also encourage seniors to drink alcohol moderately, as it can cause you to lose body heat more quickly.
- Encourage the senior to stay active. It’s easier to feel cold if you’re sedentary. Encourage your loved one to remain active, within limits — this could be as simple as regularly getting up and moving around their home, perhaps with the assistance of a supportive caregiver or companion. In other cases, light exercises like yoga or lifting weights can help promote healthy blood flow.
- Regularly check in on elderly family and friends. Check in on the older adults in your life as often as possible when the weather grows colder. Don’t be afraid to stop in and check up on your elderly friends or neighbors, as well as your loved ones. If you live too far away to spend time with your senior family, get in contact with a neighbor or family friend who can check in, especially after a snowstorm or power outage. A professional senior companion can also help, spending time with your loved one and making sure they’re safe and comfortable, all season long.
About Companions for Seniors
Want to talk in more depth about what the winter months may mean for your elderly loved ones? Are you looking for professional help to care for your aging family 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 and insured, and can help your family shoulder some of the responsibilities of caring for an aging loved one during the coldest days of the year. 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.
Have any more questions? Ready to get started? Get in touch today using our handy online portal, or give us a call at 866-910-9020.