As the weather cools off and we enter the coldest months of winter, conditions can become dangerous for people of all ages, but especially older adults.
It’s important to take extra precautions to keep yourself or your loved one safe and warm this winter. Knowing the potential hazards and how to prevent them will empower you to best prepare before an emergency arises.
Cold weather brings along a slew of risk factors, but perhaps the most dangerous for seniors is their elevated risk of catching hypothermia. Those age 75 or older are particularly susceptible because they tend to have less body fat, a slower metabolism, and slower circulation. In addition, certain medical conditions can increase risk factors.
A common misconception about hypothermia is that it can even happen indoors. For this reason, the thermostat in the home should never fall below 65 degrees, but the National Institute on Aging recommends the temperature be set to at least 68-70 degrees to keep seniors safe. Additionally, seniors should dress warmly in layers, even when indoors.
If you or your loved one are setting the thermostat dangerously low due to cost concerns with rising heating prices, there are several assistance programs aimed at helping people on low or fixed income get through the winter at a safe temperature.
Many believe that dehydration is only a risk factor in the hot summer months. However, seniors are especially prone to dehydration in the winter for a few reasons. First, they tend to eat and drink less than their younger counterparts, thus consuming less water. They also feel less thirsty during the winter months. Cold, dry air also doesn’t help moisture loss through the colder months. Being too cold can also speed up the dehydration process.
It is imperative to track water intake and ensure you’re always drinking enough fluids throughout the day, even if you don’t feel thirsty. You may also want to consider running a humidifier to keep moisture in the air and help your skin throughout the coldest months.
Signs of dehydration can be frequent urination, dark urine, dizziness, and confusion. Dehydration can be very serious and should not be taken lightly. If you suspect you might be dehydrated, reach out to your medical provider to determine your best course of action.
Minimize Fall Risks
Wintertime is notorious for falls for people of all ages, but especially seniors that may be less stable on their feet and less able to catch themselves before a fall. Sidewalks, stairs, and porches can become slick with ice seemingly instantly, so it is important to always keep sidewalk salt and a shovel handy throughout the winter months to ensure walkways are safe and free of fall hazards.
In addition, seniors should be sure to wear well-fitting, non-slip, sturdy shoes and have any mobility aids equipped with new tips or treads during the winter months.
If you or your loved one are unable to manage the ice and snow on their own, there are organizations that may offer seniors free or discounted snow-shoveling services.
Be Prepared For Anything
It is a smart idea for people of all ages to have an emergency kit prepared in their home for natural disasters, but especially important for elderly adults. Winter storms can be powerful enough to knock out power and confine people to their homes. For this reason, it’s important to have a disaster kit and an emergency plan in case something like this were to happen this winter.
Your kit should be well-stocked with non-perishable food, clean drinking water for several days (1 gallon per person, per day is a good rule of thumb), a non-electric can opener, at least a week’s supply of any essential medications, a flashlight, a radio, batteries, and a first-aid kit.
If the home is heated by an electric heat source, it is wise to either have backup heat from a natural gas or propane source and/or a backup generator to run if the electricity should go out.
Additionally, if you or your elderly loved one are on electric-powered life-saving equipment, be sure to reach out to your power company to let them know so they can place you on a priority list to restore power to your home first.
Keep Space Heaters Safe
Space heaters can be a great source of added warmth for those that have difficulty getting warm through the winter months. However, they bring along their own set of safety concerns as they can be a fire hazard. Inspect all electric space heaters for frayed cords or other potential safety issues.
If using a gas-powered heater, be sure you have working carbon monoxide detectors on each level of the home. You should also have working smoke detectors on each level of the home.
Keep all heaters away from flammable materials like curtains, blankets, or other items of cloth or paper.
Electric blankets are another great source of adding heat for aging adults, but they also have safety issues to consider. They must be used with caution to prevent burns, electric shocks, or even fires. If the electric blanket or mattress pad is more than a few years old, you should consider replacing it as the coils inside the fabric can become damaged over time.
Consider A Move
For seniors that live alone, being prepared for frigid temperatures and less-than-desirable weather conditions can help you feel safe and confident as you face this winter season. However, many seniors are finding that a move to an assisted living apartment can take away all the stress of caring for a home, staying safe, and maintaining walkways throughout the winter.
Senior living communities provide a variety of amenities that help keep residents happy, active, healthy, and safe year-round.
Come Home To Auburn Hill Senior Living
When your loved one is ready to enjoy life in a community that is lively, welcoming, and inspiring – we’ll be ready to say WELCOME HOME!