The winter season is risky for elderly parents – and not necessarily for the more obvious reasons that spring to mind. While cold temperatures, wet or icy conditions, and flu season are certainly things to prepare for – this time of year can take an emotional and energetic toll on seniors as well.
The following considerations are helpful when caring for elderly parents. With these simple tips, you can buy them some health and wellbeing until spring sunshine and warmer temperatures return.
Winter Safety Precautions For Elderly Parents
Fall is the time to proactively think ahead and address potential winter safety hazards:
- Check and double-check exterior walkways and lighting, ensuring handrails are secure. Clean exterior lights and replace bulbs as needed – installing motion-sensitive detectors and/or light-sensors ensuring seniors are never left in the dark.
- Contact local landscape maintenance or snow/ice removal companies, and get your parents address on their storm list if you haven’t already.
- Verify all interior light bulbs are in working order and consider installing motion-sensitive lighting in bathrooms and hallways.
- Have a licensed roofer or handyperson check gutters and downspouts, clearing them as needed. If they’re clogged, excess water overflows onto walkways and in front of doorways, increasing slip/fall hazards.
- Change the batteries in the smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Daylight savings day has become an honorary “change the batteries” day, an easy way to remember a small- but potentially lifesaving task.
Those are some of the seasonally-appropriate steps to keep seniors safe this winter. We also recommend reading our post, How Easy Home Modifications Can Enable Seniors to Age-In-Place Comfortably.
Keep Elderly Parents Warm & Comfy
The Healthy Aging Project has an informative article on how aging takes its toll on our body’s ability to regulate internal body temperature: “[Senior’s] bodies become less effective at controlling skin blood flow and generating internal heat. In addition, the layer of fat under our skin that acts as an isolator and helps to conserve body heat thins with age. Because of these changes, it is harder for older adults to maintain internal body temperature in the “normal” range in cold conditions.”
A few things you can do to keep elderly parents warm and comfy include:
- Perform a DIY energy audit, or hire a local, licensed and insured handyman to walk the house, replacing/repairing weather stripping and seals, ensuring all doors and windows shut properly, and to verify attic insulation is adequate.
- Check the thermostat and make sure it is never lower than 65°F. Maintaining comfortable interior temperatures – even if it seems a little on the warm side to others – keeps them from getting too cold.
- Make sure your parents have soft, warm, comfortable clothing that fits (especially if they have lost weight) and that can be easily removed/added in response to temperature fluctuations.
- Switch to flannel sheets and add extra layers of warm blankets to the beds. Electric blankets set on timers (so they can’t be left on and cause a fire hazard) are another, welcome winter addition.
- Get new, warm slippers with non-slip soles and replace the treads on canes, walkers, or other mobility aids.
- Remind them to hydrate. The combination of winter’s lower humidity levels and increased temperature mean seniors need to be conscientious about drinking enough fluids to remain adequately hydrated.
Look Into Driving, Errand Running & Meal Preparation Support
Once stormy weather strikes, it’s time to rethink seniors and their driving habits. If driving seems risky in fair weather, visit, Safety Behind the Wheel, which provides more information on seniors and safe driving – as well as how to get objective, third-party help to aid the cause.
If seniors are willing to give up driving in stormy weather, or they’ve already turned in the keys, consider looking into agency-provided driving services, errand running, and grocery and meal preparation support. If they don’t have access to fresh, healthy ingredients regularly, seniors are quick to succumb to malnutrition, affecting every aspect of their physical and emotional wellbeing.
Find Creative Ways to Keep Your Elderly Parent(s) Active
Some of the unforeseen dangers of the winter and holiday season have more to do with seniors’ social-emotional health.
The combination of less sun, inability to spend as much time outdoors and dangerous road conditions that put a damper on regular social outings can lead to depression, anxiety, and loneliness. Plus, if seniors aren’t as physically active, they are at risk for sleep disturbances, fatigue, and lack of mental clarity.
Think ahead and get creative, finding ways to keep senior loved ones active. Ideas for the winter season include:
- Reaching out to local senior centers and gyms to see what types of senior-specific dance or exercise classes they offer. Indoor pools typically offer water exercise options as well.
- Hiring a companion to spend time every week socializing, playing games, and keeping your parent(s) company.
- Making sure your parent(s) has safe transportation to their favorite weekly or monthly activities, rain or shine.
- Finding different ways to make in-house exercise a priority, whether it be via stretching, Theraband exercises, a stationary bicycle, chair yoga, etc.
Finally, never underestimate the power of regular social engagement. From minimizing the risk of depression to slowing down the progression of dementia, health care professionals are clear that having a sense of community, belonging, and regular social engagement is a cornerstone of senior wellbeing.
Read our post, Staying Engaged For Productive Aging, to learn more.
Schedule A Mid-Winter Physical
Mid-winter is a good time to schedule a checkup with your parent’s medical care provider. Routine blood work will reveal if s/he’s experiencing any nutritional deficiencies, which can affect healthy mental states and energy levels.
For example, many seniors are prone to vitamin D deficiency this time of year due to the lack of sun. The physician can recommend dietary supplements, lifestyle changes, or the use of an in-home light therapy lamp.
If transportation is an issue, look into Uber Health when other forms of public transportation aren’t realistic or helpful.
Make A Special Effort To Tend To Elderly Parents During the Holidays
Sometimes, seniors feel cast to the wayside or – even worse – that they’re an inconvenience during the holidays. This is particularly true for seniors who can no longer host traditional meals or gatherings in their homes.
If you live far away, companionship services are a wonderful way to send a loving, attentive visitor on your behalf. We’re always happy to work with clients and their adult children, using companions to spread holiday cheer, hand-deliver gifts with a hug, facilitate FaceTime or Skype calls, or to act as a reader/scribe if it’s difficult for parents to read and write.
If you live close by, put family members to work making your elderly parent(s) feel extra special. Making crafts, helping with easy food prep or decorations, perusing old family photo albums or videos, dancing, and game time are all good options for making seniors feel wanted, loved, and part of the action over the holidays.
Supportive Senior Care For Elderly Parents This Winter
Helping elderly parents through the dark, cold winter requires an emphasis on the physical, mental and emotional.
Read our, Checklist to Caring for Aging Parents, for additional tips and resources. And, don’t forget about taking advantage of respite care options, which allow you and other family caregivers to take a break, attend holiday social events, and to reduce holiday stress.