Though snowstorm Jonas has come and gone, the mountains of snow and ice left behind create real issues and difficulties for seniors. While it’s estimated that 87 percent of those 65 years and older want to stay in their homes as they age1, winter can certainly make that challenging. But just because the weather outside is frightful, life can still be delightful as long as you keep in mind these tips for keeping seniors safe during winter.
- Clear the way. Snow and ice can make it difficult for seniors to get out of their homes—and for caregivers to get to them! Make sure pathways to and from the home are clear, and that the essentials are available for keeping pathways clear, like salt and shovels. For seniors unable to handle the physical labor of clearing the snow, make sure there is a friend, relative or snow removal service in place to handle this. If the senior lives in an apartment building, check with the maintenance staff to ensure walkways and steps are cleared and salted to protect from falls.
- Check your temperature. Because of illnesses that can affect the body’s response, seniors can be more susceptible to hypothermia in the winter months. Warning signs like drowsiness, limb stiffness and weak pulse can alert caregivers to potential hypothermia.2 To prevent this, seniors should layer up on the clothing both inside and outside of the home. Check the thermostat to make sure it’s reading correctly and the home is properly heated. Low-income homes can contact the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services if they need assistance with heating bills during the cold months.
- Light it up. Winter months mean the sun sets quite early, which can hinder seniors with deteriorating or low vision. Make sure there is enough lighting throughout the house, and set them on timers to keep the home well lit—without the task of moving from room to room to turn on individual lights. Use overhead lights to reduce or eliminate shadows, and seniors should move from a dark room to a light room—or vice versa—with caution, to give their eyes time to adjust.3
- Power up. Winter storms sometimes bring with them not only snow and ice—but also power outages. Make sure an emergency plan is in place for those seniors whose care involves instruments and equipment that require electricity.4 Make sure all devices are fully charged and extra batteries—if applicable—are available.
- Mind + body connection. When you combine cold temperatures that can limit socialization with a lack of sunshine, you’ve got a recipe for increased incidences of depression in seniors. Make sure seniors are screened for depression periodically, and check in with them daily. Try using technology to help with lack of socialization: Skype or FaceTime with grandchildren or other relatives and friends while you visit so seniors can feel connected to a larger community. If their bodies are up for it, help seniors develop an exercise routine they can do at home, sometimes right from a chair, as regular exercise is known to help reduce depression.6