Cold Weather Tips for the Elderly
For people who are caregivers for elderly friends or family members, the winter months can be particularly difficult and worrisome. The drop in temperatures, snow and ice and the increase of illnesses make it a challenging time of the year for people who live in cold climates. Elderly who suffer from chronic illness and take multiple medications are more vulnerable to the cold temperatures. Poor nutrition and dehydration also make the elderly more vulnerable to colder weather. The cold is also felt less by the elderly, so their ability to control their body temperatures is significantly reduced. Even if an older person does feel cold, it is shown that they tend to be more reluctant to heat their homes in order to reduce heating costs. Although cold weather poses a high risk for the elderly, there are plenty of tips to follow throughout the winter months to stay safe and warm.
During the winter, it is crucial to drink a sufficient amount of water throughout the day, even if one does not feel thirsty. It is recommended to drink 8-10 glasses of water per day to maintain proper health. It is also important to understand that eating and drinking warm foods and beverages can help to maintain body heat.
Elderly should stay active even if they cannot leave their homes. Being mobile throughout the day raises body heat and increases blood flow.
It is crucial to know and control the temperature of the home. An ideal temperature should range between 68-75 degrees and can be measured by a simple thermometer. The air inside should not be too dry or too humid. Sufficient humidity is good, but too much humidity can be a cause of illness. Doors, windows, and any openings which lead to the outdoors should be properly sealed so that the house or apartment can easily maintain a proper temperature, but be sure not to restrict normal, proper ventilation as well.
Layered, warm, and comfortable clothing is important for protecting against cold winter climates. Clothing should not restrict movement, but keep heat in. Because our metabolism is so slow in the morning due to lack of activity overnight, it is especially important to dress warmly then. At night, flannel sheets, socks, and blankets can help to keep elderly individuals at a good body temperature. While it is best to stay out of the winter weather if you are an older adult, gloves and a hat are recommended in addition to a coat if one needs to brave the elements.
Falls are extremely common in the elderly community. During the winter, snow, sleet, and ice make for unfit and slippery conditions, but falls can certainly be prevented by wearing non-slip, sensible footwear, staying on clear paths that are frequently walked upon, sprinkling sand or ice on roads or sidewalks, and using necessary assistive devices such as a cane or walker. Even with these helpful tips, it is best to minimize the risk of falling by avoiding going outside in bad weather if at all possible.
Eliminate potential fire risks. Fires often start from things like overheating electric blankets or space heaters. Candles are always a risk, as well as drying Christmas trees. Make sure smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are stocked with fresh batteries and are in good working order, and fire extinguishers are readily available near stoves and fireplaces.
Seniors should have limited exposure to the elements outside, but it's not fair or realistic to coop them up indoors all winter long. Try to run errands for them and make sure the house is always stocked with good food and medicines to limit the number of unnecessary trips outdoors.
Provide your elder with a cell phone that is easy to use. Make sure the cell phone is always charged and has emergency contact numbers pre-programmed. Ensure your elder has practiced using the dialing feature.
Stock emergency resources in the homes. Emergency kits must be easily accessible and should include water, flashlight, batteries, radio, and blankets. Seniors should have at least a seven-day supply of prescription medications and a three-day supply of non-perishable food and water on hand.
If your elderly loved one is still driving, be sure they have emergency snow supplies in their car, including heating packs, kitty litter or sand, emergency flares and snow scrapers/brushes, water and blankets, as well as a car phone charger. Make sure to keep the gas tank full. Ask your elderly loved one to contact you and let you know their destination, route and expected time of arrival before they leave the house.
Establish a plan for winter emergencies. If power is lost, do you and your elder know where they will go and what they will need? Have an emergency bag packed with a change of clothing and all medical and care necessities. Have a carrier ready in case pets need to be transported with them. Go to www.redcross.org to find shelters open in your area.
If you suspect a person may have hypothermia, check his temperature. If it is below 95 degrees, he needs to be taken immediately to an emergency room. Otherwise, take him to a warmer place, have him change out of any damp clothes and into layers of dry clothes and wrap him with blankets. Cold weather does not have to be deadly to the elderly. Using common sense, following the simple tips discussed above, and being proactive with your aged friends and relatives will help ensure that they can enjoy safe and warm winters.