Winter is here and along with the low temperatures and snowy weather, come unique dangers to senior citizens that we might not think about. Basic winter safety is important, but these winter tips for senior citizens is an important tool to keep your loved one healthy and safe through the season.
Keep the indoor temperature of a home at 68 degrees.
It is understandable that some seniors living on a budget might want to lower the thermostat a few degrees to lessen their monthly heating bill, but turning that dial down just a few degrees can be dangerous. Hypothermia starts to occur when the body temperature drops to 95 degrees or lower and more than half of Hypothermia related deaths happen to people aged 65 and older. Elderly adults are not able to regulate heat the same way that people 60 years and older are able to. Medications and medical conditions such as poor nutrition, hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid), diabetes, stroke and heart conditions can also lead to poor body heat regulation. Elderly adults with dementia or Alzheimer’s will have an increased risk due to memory loss. They might not remember to dress warmly or adjust their thermostat when the weather changes. Symptoms of Hypothermia can include- slurred speech, dizziness or memory loss, and lack of coordination.
To help keep Hypothermia at bay this winter season make blankets easily accessible throughout the entire house. Make sure they have clothes that are appropriate for the season. If your loved one has dementia or memory loss, store clothing that is not appropriate for winter in a place out of sight and reach so that even if they cannot remember the season- they have only warm clothes to wear. Keep the thermostat set at 68 degrees or higher; you can have a smart thermostat installed so that you can regulate temperature from an app.
If you suspect that your loved one has symptoms of Hypothermia- call 911 immediately, but to help them until EMTs arrive- give them something warm to drink (not caffeinated or alcohol), place blankets and around them and cover their heads (main source of heat loss), and do not use a heating pad or place them in a hot shower/bath to warm them up. There are also thermometers that you can purchase that will detect lower body temperatures- find one for less than $10 on Amazon.
Preventative Maintenance on Heating Elements and Fire Safety.
If your loved one stays warm by using a fireplace or woodstove, make sure to have them checked before the winter season arrives. Carbon Monoxide poisoning is greater in the winter due to more use of these of these type of appliances. Place Carbon Monoxide and Smoke Detectors on every floor of the house (including the basement) and check their batteries every six months. A good rule of thumb is to check them on Daylight Savings.
If they use a portable heater, make sure it is one that shuts off if knocked over. Place bright color tags on the floor to remind them that there is a cord there so that they don’t trip and fall. If a fall in the home does happen- do they have a phone or emergency pendant that they can keep on them at all times to call for help? There are many devices that can be used to call for help and even ones that can detect a fall.
If a small fire does occur, does your loved one have a working fire extinguisher in their home? Has it been tested? Do they know how to use it? Is there a proper evacuation plan for them?
Have an emergency kit and plan for power outages and weather disasters.
Keep a container of emergency supplies on hand and in an accessible place in case of an emergency. Blankets, lanterns, flashlights, first aid kit, non-perishable and easy to open food, a case of water, portable charger and a set of instructions for what to do in any emergency situation. If the power goes out- make sure your loved one knows how to make an emergency phone call on their cell phones if their battery dies.
If you regularly visit your loved one to check on their health and safety, do you have a plan ready if you can’t get to them in bad weather or an emergency? During the winter especially, make sure they have enough medication and food to last them at least a week. Does your loved one struggle with memory loss? If so and even if they do not have a memory loss problem, smart devices and phones can help you reach them virtually if you cannot physically be there. Cameras placed in main areas of the home can help you check in on them if they aren’t answering the phone or might not remember to call.
The winter season is a wonderful time of the year, many holidays and family gatherings take place. To keep the season bright, make sure to follow these tips to keep your elderly loved on happy, healthy and safe.