You are right to be concerned. Winter safety for seniors should be a priority for caregivers and family members to ensure their loved ones remain healthy when the temperatures drop. Besides the obvious hazards of slipping and falling on ice, hypothermia, when body temperature drops below a normal range, is a real risk for seniors that should not be minimized.
Know the Signs
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), over one half the deaths caused by hypothermia are in seniors over 60 years old. Why is hypothermia such a threat to elderly people? As the body ages, the ability to self-regulate temperatures diminishes, leaving some seniors unable to feel changes in temperature or maintain a stable temperature. The risk for hypothermia can increase when outside, but even poorly heated homes may leave some seniors vulnerable to frostbite and other symptoms.
Some of the symptoms of hypothermia you should look for can include:
- Cold hands and feet
- Swollen or puffy face
- Shivering and shaking
- Slowed respiration
- Slurred speech
- Trouble walking
- Irritability or mood swings
If your loved one exhibits some of these indicators, you should seek medical attention immediately. Try to keep him or her warm with blankets or a hot beverage until help is available. Hypothermia can lead to heart, kidney, or liver damage, frostbite, and other health complications, even death, so you do not want to wait for it to improve on its own.
Preventing hypothermia is not expensive or complicated; common sense can be your guide. Here are some tips for increased winter safety for seniors that may help you reduce the chance of hypothermia.
- Bundling up before going outside is only the beginning of hypothermia prevention. Wearing layers of dry clothing helps seniors to retain their body heat. Don’t forget vulnerable areas like hands, head, neck, and feet. Change out of any wet or soiled clothing as soon as possible, even if indoors.
- Maintain a temperature of above 68 degrees in your senior’s rooms or home. Older homes may be poorly insulated and need repairs. You may also want to replace weather stripping around doors and windows to reduce drafts.
- Avoid relying on space heaters, wood-burning fireplaces, or electric blankets to keep your loved one warm. Each of these can increase the risk of a fire in the home as well as carbon monoxide poisoning. Instead, opt for wearing more layers inside and using multiple blankets for added warmth.
- Help your senior stay hydrated and well-fed. A balanced diet rich in nutrients and vitamins or adding vitamin supplements can keep your loved one at a healthy weight which in turn can help maintain a stable body temperature.
- If your loved one lives alone, make sure you or a caregiver checks in daily to monitor the home environment and observe any behavior changes or other symptoms.
- Prepare ahead of a predicted snow or ice storm in case of power outage. You may need to put out salt to melt ice on walkways and have necessary supplies on hand. In the south, we like to joke about rushing to the store for bread and milk, but you do need food on hand if dangerous conditions do not clear up right away.
One More Issue
You know the importance of keeping warm and avoiding falls, but you should be on the lookout for another factor that can impact winter safety for seniors: isolation. Seniors may spend more time inside, alone, without companionship. They may develop seasonal affective disorder or have signs of depression and anxiety that can be exacerbated by shorter days, less sunshine, and decreased social interaction. You want to make sure your loved one has a warm body and a warm soul for well-being.
Spring is on the horizon, so stay warm and stay safe!