With the snow falling and the holidays around the corner, many anticipate the most wonderful time of the year! But for many seniors—especially those who require in-home assistance—winter isn’t exactly a wonderland. Colder temperatures and slippery conditions put older adults at an increased risk of hypothermia, frostbite, physical injuries and seasonal depression. Plus, depending on location, winter can pose the threat of power outages, blizzards and other natural disasters that make it difficult for older adults to get the care and resources they need. Stay safe, healthy and prepared this winter by checking out our seven winter safety tips for seniors.
1. Dress for the cold
As we age, our skin and layers of fat begin to thin, making us more susceptible to the cold. This may cause seniors to have a hard time generating enough body heat. This puts them at a higher risk for frostbite and hypothermia.1 Thankfully, wearing multiple layers and having a warm blanket on hand can help reduce body heat loss and keep older adults comfortable.
If you or an aging loved one do decide to brave the winter weather, remember to layer. Bundle up with a pair of mittens, a scarf, a hat and a durable, wind-resistant coat. It’s also a good idea to wear a pair of waterproof shoes to keep your feet warm and dry.
2. Maintain a well-balanced diet
What we put into our bodies can have a huge impact on our health. Seniors whose diets lack key nutrients are at a higher risk of getting sick. Older adults should incorporate healthy antioxidants, vitamins and minerals into their diets to help boost their immune systems and ward off potential infections.
Seniors should fill their plates with nutrient-rich foods, such as whole grains, lean proteins and colorful fruits and vegetables. Be conscientious that the foods are high in fiber and low in sodium. Seniors should also choose foods that are high in calcium, to support bone density, and vitamin D, which can help minimize risk of cognitive decline, depression and osteoporosis.2
3. Prevent illnesses
Because it can be difficult and dangerous to get around, many older adults have less contact with others during cold months. This can breed feelings of loneliness and isolation.
To help avoid these issues, family members can check in on seniors as often as possible or hire an in-home caregiver to provide companionship; a short, daily phone call can also make a big difference. Seniors can also arrange a check-in system with neighbors and friends, where each person looks in on one or two others daily.
4. Avoid falls
The risk of falling rises with age. In fact, more than one in four seniors fall each year,4 and the slippery, icy conditions winter often brings certainly aren’t helpful. Thankfully, there are a variety of precautions older adults can take to minimize accidents.
Seniors should be wary of all walkaways, especially outdoor sidewalks or steps during the winter months. Be sure to salt all pathways before it snows or sleets and keep an eye out for icy surfaces while walking. Wearing shoes with non-skid soles or replacing the tip of a cane with an ice grip attachment may also be helpful. Finally, seniors should remember to remove their shoes immediately after coming indoors, otherwise they could track water and snow throughout the house, increasing the risk of falling.
If you or a loved one are looking for a complete care solution to fall prevention beyond simply being cautious during the winter months, HomeWell offers a solution: SureStep Fall Prevention. This Signature Program takes all aspects of life into consideration and designs a plan that’s unique to each individual.
5. Prepare for power outages
Winter storms can cause a plethora of problems, including power outages that last several days. It’s always better to be prepared, so seniors should make sure to have the following items on hand:
- Extra batteries
- Warm blankets
- A battery-powered radio
- A stock of non-perishable food items
You should also make sure your aging loved one has access to an alternative heating source, such as one of the following:
- A gas or wood burning stove
Please remember that these alternatives can release carbon monoxide.5 You or your aging loved one should have these heating sources checked annually and replace the batteries in the carbon monoxide detector every year.
6. Winterize the car
Icy roads, obstructed vision and other hazardous weather conditions can be dangerous for people of all ages. However, vision impairments, hearing loss and slower reflexes can put older adults at a greater risk of an accident. Cold temperatures, ice and sleet also take a physical toll on vehicles.
While it’s best for seniors to avoid driving in poor conditions, it’d be wise to winterize the car in case they should need to leave the house. Have the car’s battery, brakes, wipers, fluids and tires checked and replaced if needed. It’s also a good idea to have an emergency kit in the car’s trunk or backseat. This kit should be stocked with the following:
- Warm clothes
- Dried or canned food
- Bottled water
- First Aid materials
Here are some other helpful items to have on hand in case you are stranded:
- Jumper cables
- A windshield scraper
- A shovel
- A flashlight
- A bag of sand or cat litter
7. Fight seasonal depression
If you or a loved one feel particularly sad or lonely during the winter and fall months, you may be experiencing seasonal affective disorder (SAD). There’s no clear cause of SAD, but there are several factors that may be linked to these feelings—the days are shorter, there’s less sunshine, and it’s harder to gather with friends and family.
While these symptoms may only be temporary, it’s still important for seniors experiencing SAD to act. Combat the depressive thoughts by trying the tips below:
- Get active during the day
- Schedule some “wind down” time before bed
- Stay connected with friends and family
- Talk with a counselor
- Find some companionship services near you
Reach out to HomeWell for help
While many seniors can implement these cold weather tips by themselves, others may find it more difficult to prepare for winter. Take the time to evaluate your needs and don’t be afraid to ask others to help. At HomeWell, we provide a myriad of services specifically designed to meet your unique needs. Whether you need someone to help clear clutter from the hallways, deliver groceries to your home, or simply stop by to keep you company during the chilly months, our expert Care Managers and trained caregivers can provide you with the assistance you need.
1. Hypothermia and Frostbite: Easier to Develop Than You Might Think | NIH MedlinePlus Magazine
2. What to Know About Vitamin D Dosage for Older Adults | WebMD
3. Flu and People 65 Years and Older | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
4. Falls and Fractures in Older Adults: Causes and Prevention | National Institute on Aging
5. What is Carbon Monoxide? | United States Environmental Protection Agency