It’s the most wonderful time of the year—and also the coldest. Winter brings many new challenges, especially for senior citizens. Hypothermia, frostbite, or falls on ice can occur in cold and snowy conditions, posing serious health threats to your older loved ones. There are not only health risks but also safety concerns that come with winter, such as fires, carbon monoxide poisoning, and dangerous driving. Here at Angels Senior Homes Solutions (ASHS), we want you and your loved ones to stay healthy and safe this winter. With these tips, you can prevent winter-related issues and focus on what really matters during the holidays—family.
Older adults produce less body heat than younger people, and it’s difficult for senior citizens to tell when their body temperature is too low. This can lead to hypothermia, the condition of having a dangerously low body temperature caused by overexposure to the cold. Some warning signs include lots of shivering, cold and ashy skin, fatigue, weakness, confusion, and slowed breathing or heart rate. If you think your elderly loved one is experiencing hypothermia, call 911 immediately. To prevent hypothermia, stay inside when it’s extremely cold and windy and always wear dry clothes and layers if you have to go outside (hats, gloves, scarves, a coat, boots, etc.)
Frostbite is cold-induced skin damage all the way down to the bone. The nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, and toes are the body parts most affected. Older adults are more likely to get frostbite if they have heart disease or other circulation problems. Warning signs include ashy or grayish-yellow skin, hard or waxy skin, and numbness. Those afflicted with frostbite may also have hypothermia if they’re outside for an extended period of time, so seek medical help immediately for your loved one if that’s the case. To ward off frostbite, cover up all parts of the body if going outside in the winter. If your skin becomes red or starts hurting while outdoors, get inside right away and run warm water over these areas.
Falling can happen to anyone in the winter while shoveling snow, walking to the car, or—the worst—slipping on ice. Your elderly loved ones are especially prone to falls if they have heart problems, difficulty with balance, or brittle bones from osteoporosis. If you can, shovel walkways for your loved one or hire someone to do so to prevent your family member from walking on icy, snowy sidewalks. Have your loved one wear non-skid shoes or boots with good traction and walk next to them whenever you can to catch them before they fall. It’s also a good idea to replace the rubber tips on canes or walkers before the tips are worn smooth; good traction on canes and walkers can reduce falls as well.
Getting cozy by the fire is a holiday tradition, but burning wood, natural gas, and kerosene produces carbon monoxide (CO). This toxic gas is so dangerous because you cannot see or smell it, and its effects of confusion or headache are not initially noticeable. A fire getting out of hand is another reasonable winter concern. To combat CO and fires, call an inspector to check your chimney every year and clean it when necessary. Make sure your fireplaces, gas and wood stoves, and gas appliances are properly vented and cleaned; offer to clean these for your loved ones if doing so is difficult or unsafe for them. Use smoke and CO detectors, testing them each month and replacing the batteries every six months. Finally, keep space heaters at least three feet away from curtains and beds, and always have a fire extinguisher handy.
Driving is always a challenge in the snow, especially for senior citizens. Help your loved
one winterize his or her car this year. That is, have a mechanic or someone who knows what they’re doing check and change the car’s antifreeze, tires, and windshield wipers. Make sure your loved one has a cell phone whenever driving in case of emergency and ask him or her to let you know when he or she is leaving and arriving. Stock vehicles with winter emergency items, such as blankets, a first aid kit, flashlight, booster cables, windshield scraper, and dried or nonperishable food. And, of course, never let your elderly loved one drive on icy, dangerous roads. If a loved one is no longer able to drive in the winter, let one of our Angels from ASHS provide transportation.
Follow these guidelines for a happy and healthy winter! For more information about how you can continue caring for an elderly family member, contact Angel’s Senior Home Solutions for the assistance and support your need.