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Winter Safety for Elders

By Homewatch CareGivers, LLC

Did you know that seniors have increased risks for injury and illness in the cold, shorter days of winter? Learn about some of the surprising ways that your loved one may need extra care and support during this time of year.

If you are a caregiver providing in home care services for someone, either as a family member or a paid professional, it can help to know what to look out for to maintain safety.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

With less daylight, people of all ages are susceptible to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) in the winter months. SAD is a type of depression that typically occurs in fall and lasts through winter. Older adults who are isolated from family and friends and experiencing loneliness due to the loss of a spouse, an illness, or another reason, may be particularly likely to develop SAD.

The Mayo Clinic lists these symptoms of SAD to look out for in yourself or someone for whom you care:

Losing interest in activities

Difficulty sleeping

Change in appetite and weight

Feeling depressed most of the day, every day

Experiencing feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness

Low energy

Thoughts of suicide

SAD may be brought on by changes in melatonin levels or serotonin levels, and people with a family history of SAD or depression can also be a factor.

Caregivers can encourage someone in their care to see their healthcare provider if these signs exist.

Warm and Cozy Inside

Just because someone is indoors does not mean that they are keeping their body temperature high enough. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services states that “living in a cold house, apartment, or other building can cause hypothermia.”

Hypothermia is what happens when the body loses heat faster than it can produce heat. Be on the lookout for slurred speech, shallow breathing, confusion, drowsiness, weak pulse, and loss of coordination (such as fumbling hands). Certain medical conditions like diabetes can put people at higher risk for hypothermia.

The recommendation is to dress warmly indoors, not just outside—especially if you are feeling ill. For concerns about high heating bills, people can close off unused rooms of their home and block cold from coming in through windows by drawing the drapes.

Hypothermia is a medical emergency so contact emergency services if there is a concern.

Check out this list of 11 tips to help winterize a senior’s home.

Shoveling Snow and Handling Icy Walkways

While having a clear pathway to get in and out of the house is important for the person who lives there, as well as their friends, family, and caregivers who may need to come over, there is also danger in shoveling snow.

When it’s cold outside, your heart is working double to keep your body warm. Engaging in a strenuous activity such as lifting heavy snow or breaking up ice on the sidewalk can put additional strain on the heart. People who are living with heart disease should contact their healthcare provider before attempting to shovel their snow, or consider hiring someone else to help with the job instead. Snow shoveling can also be a risky activity for people who are living with osteoporosis.

Be Prepared

Occasionally, a storm can prevent caregivers from checking on someone who needs assistance with light housekeeping, meal preparation, medication reminders, and other activities of daily living in the home. As a caregiver, you can work with them ahead of time to have supplies handy such as fresh batteries for a flash light, extra blankets, canned food that they can easily prepare on their own, ensuring there are enough of their prescription medications on hand, and a phone list of neighbors who might be able to walk over when streets are closed to cars and your phone number in an easy to find place for them.

Caregiving for someone in the winter might take some planning ahead to keep both of you safe from falls and extreme cold.