The Weather Outside is Frightful: 6 Tips for Keeping Loved Ones Safe as the Temperatures Drop
The winter season is a time for hot chocolate, building snowmen, and celebrating the holidays, but it also presents unique hazards for seniors. Freezing temperatures, an uptick in indoor gatherings, and ice and snow increase the risk of hypothermia, the seasonal flu, as well as slip-and-fall injuries. So here are 6 tips for keeping loved ones safe as the temperature drops.
Though there’s no way to prevent these issues entirely, there are steps you can take to protect your elderly friends and family and keep them out of danger. Taking preventive actions now can prepare you both for the months ahead.
1. Get a flu shot. People who are 65 and older are much more likely to experience severe complications from the seasonal flu compared to their younger counterparts. In fact, the CDC says that between 70-80% of flu-related deaths occur in seniors.
Getting a flu shot is one of the easiest and most effective ways to bolster the immune system. That is especially true this year, with the COVID-19 pandemic still raging. A flu shot won’t necessarily prevent your loved one from getting sick, but it can significantly lower the risk of serious complications. Seniors have two flu shot options, the high dose flu vaccine or the adjuvanted flu vaccine.
2. Keep pathways clear of ice and snow. Considering that one in four seniors suffers a fall each year, it’s important to regularly shovel and clear the sidewalks, stairways, and paths that lead to and from your senior’s home.
In addition to shoveling, put down rock salt, sand, or cat litter on icy patches. If a walker or cane is regularly used, consider getting an extra, one for indoors, and one for outdoors. This can prevent snow and ice from getting inside, melting, and causing a fall.
Make sure your loved one has comfortable, supportive shoes with adequate grip, and if they need to visit the doctor or run errands, have someone on hand to help them to and from the car.
3. Keep their home at a comfortable temperature. Seniors are more susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia. Therefore, it’s critical to ensure their home is warm and cozy at all times. It’s even more important if a chronic condition is present like diabetes or thyroid disease. Both of these ailments can negatively affect their ability to sense changes in temperature.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends setting the thermostat between 68-70°F. If possible, try to avoid using space heaters. These devices can keep small rooms comfortable, but they also increase the risk of fires or slip-and-fall accidents.
4. Take steps to combat seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD is a common mood disorder that occurs due to the change in seasons. As the days get shorter, you might notice a difference in disposition or behavior. When combined with the social isolation caused by COVID-19, SAD can be debilitating.
Fortunately, healthy lifestyle changes may be enough to provide relief. Make sure your senior eats a healthy, balanced diet that contains fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. In addition, you may want to ask their doctor about a vitamin D supplement. Vitamin D is a crucial nutrient that the sun provides. Winter’s short days often result in vitamin D deficiencies, especially in the northernmost parts of the country.
5. Prepare a winter emergency kit. Snowstorms and winter winds often result in power outages. Usually, the electricity returns in an hour or two, but in a blizzard, it’s possible to lose power for days. Make sure an emergency kit is always easily accessible. AARP recommends packing a large, sturdy bag with lightweight, nutrient-dense foods, plenty of water, medications, a flashlight, a first-aid kit, a battery-powered radio, warm clothing, and blankets.
It’s also a good idea to keep important paperwork on hand, including a driver’s license, health insurance information, Social Security, and Medicare Cards. In the event of a serious storm, evacuation may be necessary.
6. Replace the batteries in smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Many people enjoy sitting by the fire during the winter months. If your senior has a fireplace or wood-burning stove, make sure they know how to safely use it. In addition, test all smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and replace the batteries. If you’re unable to do this yourself, get in touch with the local fire department. Many have programs that provide these services free of charge.
By taking these preventive actions now, you can prepare your elderly loved one for the season ahead. Doing so will protect their health and well-being while providing you with peace of mind.