The cold weather brings challenges and risks for anyone but especially for older adults, whose age, limited mobility, and health problems make them more susceptible to illnesses and accidents.
That’s why it’s essential to exercise added caution this time of year and take the following steps to safeguard your loved one’s well-being and help ensure their safety in the months ahead.
Monitor their temperature
Older adults have more difficulty regulating their body temperature than younger people due to having less muscle mass and their metabolism decreasing with age. According to a study from Age and Ageing, the ideal average indoor temperature is 78 degrees. Although comfort levels can vary from person to person, excessively warm environments can also cause issues such as dehydration and fatigue. Just make sure to keep inside temperatures at a minimum of 65 degrees to ensure the comfort and safety of your loved ones.
Guard against hypothermia and frostbite
Two of the biggest complications seniors can face due to the cold are hypothermia and frostbite. Because of their struggles maintaining their body temp, older adults are more likely to develop hypothermia, which is when a person’s core temperature falls below 95 degrees. Symptoms can include confusion, shivering, slurred speech, and drowsiness, and if left untreated, it can cause serious complications such as kidney problems.
To prevent these issues, ensure they take measures to stay warm. In addition to keeping their homes at a proper temperature, encourage your loved ones to dress in warm layers and wear a hat, gloves, and a scarf when they go outside. Be sure their exposure to extreme cold is limited, and try to keep their trips short and monitor them closely for any signs of frostbite. Bring them indoors and seek medical attention immediately if they begin to complain of pain or numbness in their fingers, toes, ears, or nose, as these symptoms may indicate the presence of frostbite.
Practice car safety
In winter, snow and ice can make roads slippery and dangerous while fog and rain can reduce visibility, increasing the risk of car accidents for everyone. It is particularly crucial for older individuals to exercise caution since age-related health issues, including vision impairment, hearing loss, and drowsiness or dizziness from various medications, may already impact their driving skills. In the presence of snowy or icy conditions, recommend to your elderly loved ones that they avoid bridges and overpasses and explore alternative routes when feasible. In addition, ensure that their vehicle is appropriately equipped for wintry conditions by having the correct tire pressure, filling the wiper fluid and antifreeze tanks, and confirming the windshield wipers are in good condition.
Prevent carbon monoxide poisoning and fires
Before the onset of cold weather, have a professional perform a thorough safety check on your loved one’s heating systems (and, if applicable, chimneys) to verify they are properly maintained, well vented, and thoroughly cleaned. This will help prevent the release of carbon monoxide and reduce fire hazards. Furthermore, regularly inspect the functionality and positioning of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, especially in areas close to sources like fireplaces, wood stoves, or kerosene heaters. Also, be sure space heaters and other heating appliances are kept at least three feet from flammable items such as drapes and furniture to mitigate the risk of potential fires.
Implement fall prevention measures
Older individuals commonly face challenges related to diminished mobility, balance, and muscle strength, heightening their susceptibility to falls. These issues are further compounded during winter thanks to the presence of icy and slippery surfaces. To safeguard your loved one against the risk of falling, advise them to wear nonslip footwear and, when necessary, utilize a walking aid.
Exercise caution when shoveling snow
When it’s cold outside, the heart must exert more effort because blood vessels constrict, making blood circulation more challenging. On top of that, engaging in demanding tasks like snow-shoveling can significantly burden the heart, especially for individuals with preexisting heart conditions. If your loved one intends to shovel their own driveways and walkways, make sure they receive clearance from their health care provider first to confirm it’s safe for them to do so. Otherwise, volunteer to take care of it for them or encourage them to consider hiring an external service.
As you navigate the winter months with your senior loved ones, remember that your vigilance and care can make all the difference in ensuring their safety and well-being. By creating a winter-ready environment, you can provide them with the comfort and security they deserve.