Not many people go around saying “Happy Winter.” It’s cold and most of us don’t like it, but winter is Mother Nature’s way of hitting the reset button on life. So, we tolerate the blustery bite that Old Man Winter brings each year. However, as we age, it gets harder for our bodies to tolerate such extreme weather conditions. Here are our top 10 tips for cold weather preparation for seniors.
1. Stock emergency resources in their 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 food and water on hand. Although I do encourage you to have a stocked cabinet.
2. Watch your temperature. Seniors body temperatures tend to run lowered than most adults. Especially if they have cardiac issues, hypothyroidism as well as on blood thinners. Hot drinks are a very good idea for anyone whom is cold as it will help hydrate them as well. Thermostats should be set to 68 degrees to prevent hypothermia and prevent pipes from freezing.
3. Dress smart for cold weather. Make sure their clothing is season appropriate - long sleeves, long pants, thermal socks. Layered loose-fitting clothing; gloves or mittens. Wearing a hat protects against heat loss, as close to half of body heat is lost through the head. Ensure they have a winter jacket, scarf and correct shoes.
4. Keep an eye on nutrition. With the heat being on- everyone tends to stay a bit dry. Encourage constant liquids- keep a cup of water or ice with them at all times. A diet full of fruits and vegetables help with the needed vitamins to help combat winter colds. If unable to eat a balanced diet- talk to your doctor about supplemental vitamins such as Vitamin D, Vitamin C, Zinc. Keep extra food on hand in the freezer as well as bottled or canned fruit juices and non-fat milk powder. Meals on Wheels is a great resource for Seniors needing a hot meal a day- Local DSS can assist with getting this set up.
5. Identify fall risks. Often everyone will take off their wet boots when they get home and walk around the house in socks, which often leads to slippery surfaces and falls. Encourage them to wear slippers or grippy socks (Thermal socks are wonderful for grip as well as warmth) around the home. Keep driveways and walkways clear of snow- use ice melt or walk on grassy surfaces when possible.
6. Eliminate potential fire risks. Space heaters are great for warmth in the winter. Make sure they are in the middle of the room, not being used as a table with items on top. As well as being plugged directly into an outlet versus a power strip. If using electric blankets- check the wiring is ok. Discourage a heat pad as it can cause burns to the skin. Check to make sure you have a fire extinguisher and a working smoke alarm as well. If not- your local fire department will bring out a smoke detector to your home and install for you.
7. Encourage activity and try safe exercises at home. During the winter- Seniors can become sedentary and depressed with the weather. Encourage them to get up and walk around, rocking in a rocking chair is great for their bone health as well as their muscle strength. If you notice they have had a change- always reach out to your doctor and see about having some physical therapy to keep those muscles going. The YMCA has a program called Silver Sneakers- great for interaction and exercise.
8. Have a plan for winter emergencies. If your power goes out, who is going to be able to come over and assist. Have your emergency readiness kit available as well as extra blankets. Keep a list of the local fire department, electric company, and family contacts.
9. Get your Flu/Covid Vaccine. Everyone should get their flu shot yearly as long as they do not have an adverse reaction to it. Also encourage the COVID vaccine and booster as well. It’s also important that all family members who interact regularly with your senior loved one get the shot - this will help to keep your senior healthy, and it will benefit the health of your younger family members as well
10. Boost Mental Health. Winter time can bring on the blues. Some people are affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder or Depression. Open the blinds in the home, Use light colored curtains to allow the natural light into your home. Happy Lights are a great way to get a boost of Vitamin D in the winter time. Stay involved with your social circle and regular activities.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Emily Dix is a nurse who resides in South West Virginia with her family. When she is not helping patients live long healthy lives, she enjoys camping in Virginia State Parks and cheering on her son at his latest basketball game.