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Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Seven Winter Safety Tips for Seniors and Caregivers

            As Indiana begins to see the start to a frigid and snowy winter, we want to bring you a list of items to help you, your loved ones, and caregivers to be safe this winter.  Our list provides seven items to use as a checklist and reminders of how to maintain safety during the winter months.

  1. Food and Medicine

    While grocery shopping for essentials is important, also make sure that your loved one is getting a balanced diet during the winter months and that they have plenty of food and water to last five to seven days.  Many people eat a smaller variety of foods during the winter months which can lend itself to nutritional deficits.  Ensuring that pantry and fridge are stocked with varied foods, such as those fortified in Vitamin D like milk, grains, salmon and tuna, help with varying their diet and avoiding nutritional deficits. 

    While out restocking the pantry, be sure to also ensure that the medicine cabinet is sufficiently stocked.  Check on prescription medicines to allow for ample time to obtain a refill or ensure they do not run out during a storm is imperative.  However, also checking to make sure that their first aid items are also stocked is important.  A few items to check for are: a pain reliever and fever reducer, band aids, antacids, facial tissues, cough drops, nasal decongestants, cough suppressants, and expectorants.  Be sure to check with the pharmacist to ensure that items in the cabinet will not conflict with their prescription medications. 

  2. Home Care:  Heating Your Home and Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

    Experts recommend keeping the indoor temperature around 68 degrees Fahrenheit at a minimum. While many elderly people live on a budget, it’s important to keep their homes warm. Consider some small home projects to keep heating bills down. Such projects may include closing vents, putting plastic on windows, or placing rolled towels or blankets in front of doors to reduce drafts.  

    During the winter months, home fires increase due to the use of alternative heat sources. People 65 and older are three times more likely to die or be injured in a home fire.  In addition, if they’re using a fireplace, gas heater or lantern to heat their home, make sure they have a large screen to prevent sparks from landing on their flooring from fireplaces; and, that they have working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors on each floor of their home.  

    Additional items to do before winter begins and to ensure a safe winter hibernation are to have your heating and cooling system checked to ensure that they are operating properly, replace your batteries in smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, have the chimney and fireplace cleaned and inspected, cover windows and check seals on doors to ensure proper insulation to keep heat in, clean gutters to prevent ice dams and check trees for health and branches that may need to be trimmed, and have someone check your roof and attic for holes or leaks.  

  3. Dressing for Warmth and Avoiding Hypothermia

    Wearing warm layers -- including a heavy coat, wool socks, and adequate outerwear accessories -- is an essential part of winter weather dressing. When temperatures dip to extreme lows, make sure to keep all exposed skin covered and use a scarf to help protect the lungs from harsh air. 

    Older adults can lose body heat quickly and be unaware that a change in body temperature is occurring. Because of lower metabolic rates, poor circulation and other factors, seniors are particularly susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia -- a condition where the body temperature dips below 95 degrees Fahrenheit.  Consequently, serious health problems can occur, such as a heart attack, kidney problems, or death.  According to the CDC, more than half of hypothermia-related deaths were of people over the age of 65.  So, don't let indoor temperatures go too low, dress in layers and remember to bundle appropriately for your outdoor adventures. 

  4. Mental Health Matters

    While much of the conversation focuses on the physical health and safety of seniors in winter, mental health is equally important. Because it can be difficult and dangerous to get around, many seniors have less contact with others during cold months. Winter weather can lead to increased incidences of isolation, which can in turn cause depression. 

    Make sure your aging loved one has an adequate support system of family members, friends and neighbors.  To help avoid these issues, family members can check in on seniors as often as possible or send their loved one to adult day care.   If face-to-face contact isn’t possible, digital communications can bridge the gap and daily phone calls can also make a big difference.  Seniors can also arrange a check-in system with neighbors and friends, where each person looks in on one or two others daily. 

  5. Snow Shoveling and Falls 

    It’s one of the evils of winter – snow shoveling. Just make sure that if you choose to shovel, you take some precautions. Remember, when it’s cold outside, your heart works double time to keep you warm. Strenuous activities like shoveling snow may put too much strain on your heart, especially if you have heart disease. Shoveling can also be dangerous if you have problems with balance or have “thin bones” (osteoporosis).  If at all in doubt call for assistance by a friend, family member or even a professional to clear your sidewalks and driveway. 

    It is easy to slip and fall in the winter, especially in icy and snowy conditions outside.  However, winter weather can also lead to in-home falls for seniors who inadvertently track snow and ice inside with them.  Falls are a major threat to senior health. From injuries sustained during these accidents to subsequent complications, spills on snow and ice can have dire consequences for seniors.  Often these falls cause major injuries such as hip and wrist fractures, head trauma and major lacerations.  Broken hips are a common injury for the elderly, but can lead to other health complications. 

    To prevent injuries and for optimal traction, make sure you are outfitted with solid shoes featuring non-skid soles.  If you walk with a cane, replacing a well-worn cane tip offers an added level of slip-proof security or consider an ice pick-like attachment that fits onto the end of the cane for additional traction..  Take off shoes as soon as you return indoors and use a doormat to prevent moisture from accumulating on hardwood floors.

    If you like to venture outside for a little exercise, make sure steps and walkways are clear before you walk.  Be especially careful if you see wet pavement as they could be iced over.  If you must venture out consider creating a small safety kit that you can take with you that includes a flashlight, whistle, medications, hand warmers and a bottle of water. 

  6. Driving and Traveling

    Winter is an especially important time to be vigilant when driving because road conditions and weather may not be optimal.  Driving during the winter can be hazardous for anyone, but it is especially dangerous for older people, who may not drive as often anymore or whose reflexes may not be as quick as they once were.  Get your car serviced before wintertime hits -- or ask a family member to bring it to a garage for you. Checking things like the oil, tires, battery and wipers can make a big difference on winter roads.  Remember your cell phone when you drive in bad weather, and always let someone know where you are going and when you should be expected back.  Also make sure your AAA membership is up-to-date in case of emergencies. If driving is necessary during the winter, review safe and reliable senior transportation options. 

    Just like when venturing out on foot, be sure to keep an emergency kit in your car and that it is stocked each winter.  Some items to include are:  First aid kid, blankets, extra warm clothes, booster cables, windshield scraper, shovel, rock salt or a bag of sand or cat litter (in case your wheels get stuck), water and dried food or canned food (with can opener!), and flashlight. 

  7. Storms and Power Outages

When the deep freeze is about to settle in or a blizzard is going to strike, make sure you are aware of when the weather event will occur and how long it will last.  If you have friends and neighbors who are seniors as well, make sure that they are in the know as well. 

Winter storms can often lead to power outages.  Make sure you are stocked with everything you need to make it through several days without power.  Make sure you have easy access to flashlights and a battery-powered radio in case the power goes out.  Stockpile warm blankets and wear several layers of clothing, including a hat. Move around a lot to raise your body temperature. Longer power outages can spoil the food in your refrigerator and freezer so keep a supply of non-perishable foods that can be eaten cold on hand and bottled water.  For a comprehensive list of emergency storm supplies, check out the CDC’s useful Winter Weather Checklist. 

The most important tip to keep in mind during the colder months is to ask for help.  If you need to clear your property of snow and ice, need groceries or medications, have appointments with doctors, or need additional assistance with keeping your home heated and safe; do not hesitate to contact your family, friends or even a professional service.  Your safety and health is what is most important and there are loved ones, caregivers, and professionals that are there to help.  Wintertime certainly poses challenges for seniors, but with planning ahead and asking for help, you can remain healthy and will be enjoying spring before you know it.

Cites:

https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/cold-weather-safety-older-adults 

https://www.umh.org/assisted-independent-living-blog/cold-weather-safety-tips-for-seniors-and-caregivers 

https://www.thesilverlining.com/westbendcares/blog/winter-safety-tips-for-seniors 

https://www.healthinaging.org/resources/resource:winter-safety-tips-for-older-adults/ 

https://www.care.com/c/stories/5447/winter-safety-tips-for-seniors/

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