Winter might be a magical time of year for some people, but it also brings extra concerns for elderly seniors, who are more prone to hypothermia, car accidents, and falls.
Here are our top weather safety tips for seniors, from layering adaptive women’s clothing to creating an emergency plan:
Minimize time outdoors.
During cold, inclement weather, older adults should minimize their time outdoors in order to limit their exposure to the elements.
When they must head outside, they should bundle up in thick parkas, hats, gloves, scarves and other cold-weather accessories to protect their skin as much as possible. Whenever possible, they should try to avoid going on days when the weather is inclement or the temperatures are very cold.
Take precautions against falls.
The presence of snow and ice significantly increases the risk of falls in the wintertime. Ensure that steps and walkways are clear before they go outside and watch out for black ice. If your elderly loved ones are unable to clear their own walkway or driveway, hire a service to do it for them.
They should always wear boots with a non-skid sole and consider an ice pick attachment for their cane to provide additional traction.
Turn the temperature up.
Many people like to keep the heat down to save money, but even having a temperature in the lower 60s can lead to hypothermia eventually.
Seniors should keep their home at a minimum of 68-70 degrees Fahrenheit and higher if they need it. If they are concerned about heating bills, they should close the vents in rooms they don’t use and shut the doors to direct the heat into the spaces they do frequent.
If you use fireplaces or gas to heat your home, ensure that everything is well maintained, install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and know the warning sides of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Seal the windows and doors.
Speaking of heat loss, sealing the windows and doors is an excellent way to keep heating costs low while retaining warmth and promoting energy efficiency.
Check the seals on both your doors and windows or have a professional company do it for you. You may also find it helpful to keep blinds and curtains closed to prevent heat loss and to supplement the door’s regular rubber seal with an extra cushion at the bottom.
Wear layers during the day.
Even with the heat kept at a reasonable temperature, many older people still get chilled during the day.
They should wear multiple layers of adaptive clothing for men or women, which is better for conserving body heat than a single thick layer.
If they are still not warm enough, they may need to use coats, blankets, heating pads and even space heaters to stay warm indoors. If by chance they do get overheated, then they will be able to quickly remove a layer or two as necessary.
Put on warm pajamas at night.
The temperature can drop severely at night, which means that seniors need to be extra careful about dressing warmly enough before they go to sleep.
Long underwear underneath adaptive clothing pajamas will help to conserve body heat, and wearing a cap or hat will slow heat loss through the head.
Choose warm sheets made of flannel and add extra covers or blankets to the bed to help insulate it. Seniors living in colder climates might also want to consider a heated mattress pad or blanket as well.
Eat enough food.
If someone doesn’t eat enough food, then they will lose body fat, and body fat helps to keep you warm.
Ensure that your elderly loved ones are continuing to eat enough and that they are getting enough vitamins, since deficiency can develop during winter due to a lack of fresh vegetables and sunlight.
Also watch their alcohol intake, which can lower body temperature and increase the risk of hypothermia.
Have a plan for power outages.
Both heat and power outages are more common in the wintertime, and your elderly loved ones need to be prepared for these emergencies.
Discuss emergency preparedness with them and make a plan to take care of their groceries, medications and more. Discuss relocation options if their home becomes unsafe to stay in case of emergency and what you will do if travel becomes impossible.
Driving can be difficult for seniors even when the weather is nice, and winter presents many additional dangers.
Before winter hits, they should have the antifreeze, tires and windshield wipers checked and replaced and ensure that the car is stocked with all necessary supplies.
They should let someone else know where they are going and when they plan to return and avoid driving on icy or snowy roads until they are cleared.
Talk with your doctor.
Certain health conditions can make it difficult for the body to regulate its temperature, including thyroid problems, diabetes and more.
Some medications, both prescription and over the counter, can also impact body heat. Seniors should talk to their doctors about whether or not any of their health conditions or medications increase their risk of hypothermia and what they can do to manage that. Never stop taking medication unless your doctor clears it first.
Know the warning signs of hypothermia.
On the subject of hypothermia, everyone in the family should know the warning sides. It typically starts with cold extremities, a puffy or swollen face, pale skin, slurred or slow speech, acting sleepy and being angry or confused.
If hypothermia progresses, it usually manifests as difficulty moving, stiff or jerky movements, a slow heartbeat, slow and/or shallow breathing and eventually blacking out or losing consciousness. You should immediately call 911 if you suspect that someone is experiencing hypothermia.
The winter months are harsh on everyone, especially seniors. With the colder temperatures and icey surfaces, it’s important to think about all possible safety precautions to keep an elderly friend or family member safe.