We’re based in Chicago, Illinois, where extreme weather is common. With winters regularly dipping down into the single digits and summers full of intense heat and humidity, we know how challenging extreme weather can be for seniors — and the family caregivers who love them.
When the temperature rises and falls, seniors can often find it difficult to adjust. Older adults can have trouble regulating their body temperatures and responding to changing conditions when things get too hot or too cold, due to any number of reasons.
Many common medications, for example, can cause dehydration, making it harder for seniors to adapt to high heat or low temperatures. Many older adults also face chronic health conditions that can make it harder for their bodies to adapt to changing weather conditions. Meanwhile, mobility and memory problems can make it harder for seniors to recognize a problem or get the help they need when they start to feel uncomfortable.
So, as a family caregiver, what can you do to help your loved one stay safe and comfortable through the hottest, sunniest days of summer — and the coldest, darkest days of winter? Here are a few ways to help seniors manage extreme weather conditions:
Extreme Heat: How to Help Seniors Stay Cool on Hot Days
Rising temperatures can pose a serious threat to seniors, who can be very susceptible to hyperthermia and heat exhaustion. Here are a few key ways to help take care of your elderly loved ones as the weather warms up:
- Help your loved one stay hydrated. Hydration is incredibly important for seniors. Encourage your loved one to drink lots of fluids on warm days. If your senior loved one tends to avoid water, look for other options like healthy popsicles or juices. Know the warning signs of dehydration, and don’t hesitate to get in touch with your loved one’s doctor to touch base on any conditions or medications that may affect their fluid intake.
- Be mindful of the changing weather. Keep an eye on the forecast, and try to avoid going out and doing anything strenuous during the hottest periods of the day. Stay alert for changing weather conditions, and look for heat warnings online or via your local news channel.
- No air conditioning at home? Find somewhere safe to cool off. If your loved one doesn’t have a reliable way to stay cool at home, look into other options in their community. Many communities have free cooling centers, and local resources like libraries and senior centers may keep their doors open to seniors on hot days. Otherwise, consider asking a neighbor to check in on your senior loved one on warm days when you cannot be there, or invite the senior to stay with you when necessary.
- Dress for the weather. On hot, sunny days, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends wearing loose, lightweight, and light-colored clothing. Encourage your loved one to wear layers that can be easily removed, as well as comfortable, non-slip shoes.
- Look for creative ways to stay cool. On particularly hot days, little things can have a big impact. Keep a box of your loved one’s favorite ice pops in the fridge; encourage them to use a damp cloth or ice pack to cool down; and find other clever “hacks” that can help everyone beat the heat.
- Keep your loved one’s home safe and comfortable. A little strategic planning can help make your loved one’s home safer, all summer long. Encourage your senior loved one to avoid using the oven or stove too much on hot days. Keep air vents clean and unobstructed, and clean air filters. Lower the blinds during the hottest and sunniest parts of the day. Consider slightly lowering the temperature on your loved one’s water heater, making sure to keep it within a safe and comfortable range.
- Use sun protection when going outside. Help your senior loved one enjoy time outdoors on hot, sunny days by equipping them with the protection they need to stay safe — including a wide-brimmed sun hat, glasses, and a broad-spectrum, high-SPF sunscreen.
Freezing Temperatures: How to Help Seniors Stay Safe and Comfortable When the Temperature Drops
Seniors are at high risk for hypothermia and other cold-related conditions. In fact, research even suggests that cold weather can make it more likely for seniors to suffer falls. Here are a few important action items to do to keep your senior loved ones safe and comfortable when it gets cold and snowy:
- Keep the thermostat to a safe level. During the winter months, seniors may be tempted to lower the thermostat to an extremely low level — or turn it up swelteringly high. Instead, encourage your loved one to keep the thermostat set to a more moderate level; experts recommend keeping the temperature between 68 and 74 degrees in the winter.
- Break out blankets and pillows. What could be cozier than bundling up when the temperature drops? Encourage your loved one to use extra blankets to stay warm when they are sitting on the sofa or getting into bed.
- Wear comfortable layers. Wearing layers can help you stay warm, even as the temperature falls. When going outside, help your loved one wear multiple layers of loose-fitting, waterproof clothing which covers as much skin as possible, to avoid frostbite. Make sure they wear a hat and gloves, to protect their extremities. Indoors, encourage your loved one to wear a robe, a thick sweater, and thermal underwear to help trap their body heat and stay comfortable.
- Watch out for ice and snow. Ice and snow can pose a serious threat to seniors. Help your loved one keep their patio and pathways clear, and give them a supportive hand whenever they go out to avoid suffering a slip and fall accident on an unexpected patch of ice. If a snowstorm is coming, try to check in with your loved one as soon as possible, or ask a friend or neighbor to check in on your loved one when you cannot be there in person.
- Maintain the senior’s home. Before the winter chill sets in, help your loved one get their home ready to go. Make sure their HVAC systems are serviced at least once per year; inspect the insulation in their attic, crawlspaces, and other areas where heat might escape; and seal windows and doors to prevent drafts.
- Watch out for the “winter blues.” Cold weather can often force seniors to remain indoors, which can lead to anxiety, sadness, and cabin fever over time. To help your loved one stay positive and protect their health, assist them with indoor exercises and activities; encourage them to maintain a healthy diet; and regularly check in to make sure they’re getting the social support and companionship they need.
Storms and Other Weather Events: Responding In an Emergency
Here in the Chicago area, it’s not uncommon to get snowstorms as early in the season as October… or as late as March. At the same time, thunderstorms, flash floods, and even tornadoes can spring up all year round, and often without much warning or notice.
Here are a few crucial ways you can help your loved one prepare for storms, extreme weather events, and other emergency conditions:
- Have a list of emergency contacts ready to go. Make sure your loved one has a list of essential phone numbers in a secure, accessible location. In addition to the contact information of friends and family, make sure they have the number for their doctor’s office, their gas and electric companies, and any other resources they may need to rely on in an emergency.
- Have an emergency response plan. Make sure your loved one knows what safety precautions to take in the event of a catastrophic weather event, such as a hurricane, tornado, earthquake, or fire. Regularly check in about this response plan, and loop in friends and neighbors who can help give your loved one assistance or shelter.
- Prepare an emergency safety kit and have supplies on hand. Well before a storm hits, make sure your loved one’s home comes complete with an emergency kit, including first aid supplies, a flashlight, extra batteries, and a radio. Try to also keep reserves of canned and non-perishable food items on hand, along with bottled water and necessary hygiene products, like toilet paper.
- Enlist a friend or neighbor to check in on your senior loved one. Your loved one may need help preparing before an emergency event, or getting back on track after the storm passes. If you cannot be there in person, have a list of neighbors who can check in on your loved one to make sure they’re safe and comfortable at all times.
- Help out however you can. Before and after a storm, check in and see what your loved one needs help with. Clearing branches and debris? Boarding up their windows? Restocking their medicine cabinet and refrigerator? Bringing over a heavy bag of dog food? Look for little ways to lend a helping hand.
Caring for an Aging Loved One? Companions For Seniors Is Here to Help
Whether in the dog days of summer, the frosty days of winter, or the stormy spring months, extreme weather can impact a senior’s ability to live comfortably, independently, and safely. As a family caregiver, helping your senior loved one keep up with these day-to-day challenges can be a lot to manage alone. That’s where we come in.
Whether you’re looking for an extra set of eyes to help watch out for your senior loved one during the hot summer months, or a reliable driving service to help your loved one get around safely in the winter, Companions for Seniors is here to help.
At Companions for Seniors, our mission is to help seniors maintain their independence and a higher quality of life through meal prep services, companionship, driving services, housekeeping assistance, and so much more. We offer personalized care plans for each of our clients, all on a flexible schedule that works for you. As a client’s needs change, so can our plan of care.
Our companions are trained and bonded, and can help you and your family shoulder some of the responsibility of caring for an elderly adult. We help provide seniors with a higher quality of life, while also offering respite and peace of mind for those family caregivers who might need some support.
If you have a loved one that you believe could benefit from the assistance of a professional caregiver, please don’t hesitate to get in touch! We’re here to help you find the answers you’ve been looking for. To keep the conversation going, give us a call at 866-910-9020, or fill out our online contact form, available here.