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Blog Feature

By: Marissa Salvesen on December 2nd, 2015

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Is Your Aging Loved One Safe From These Six Winter Hazards?

Aging & Caregiving

scary_winter-small.jpgFreshly falling snow, roaring fireplaces, and twinkle lights are just a few of winter’s charms. Unfortunately for older adults, the allures of the season are often unfortunately accompanied by a few hazards. Let’s take a closer look at six common threats to senior wellbeing in the winter, along with steps caregivers can take to keep their aging loved ones safe.

1. Slips and Falls

While seniors are vulnerable to slips and falls any time of the year due to a number of factors ranging from poor circulation to balance issues, winter weather means additional challenges. Because falls can be particularly debilitating for seniors, it's essential to take steps to prevent them. Encourage your aging loved one to stay inside when the sidewalks and roads are icy.

If leaving home is a must, make sure all sidewalks and pathways are clear. Also, shoes with nonskid soles are a must to ensure ample traction.

2. Frostbite and Hypothermia

Because seniors are at increased risk for frostbite and hypothermia, cold weather dressing is paramount. Make sure your aging loved one has plenty of layerable clothing in warm yet breathable fabrics, such as polyester/wool blends and fleece.

Outerwear is also essential. Heavy winter coats, warm socks, hats, gloves and scarves all help prevent dangerous heat loss.

3. The Flu

Aging adults are especially susceptible to complications from the flu. How much so? According to the CDC, between 80 to 90 percent of flu-related deaths occur in people over the age of 65. Eating right and staying hydrated can help keep the immune system strong, while practicing good hygiene -- avoiding others who are sick and washing hands often -- is also an effective flu-prevention strategy.

The best line of defense against the flu for seniors? The flu shot. While the earlier it’s administered the earlier your aging loved one is under its protection, but seniors can still derive benefits from the vaccine when it's administered later in the season.

4. Motor Vehicle Accidents

Between shorter hours of daylight and potentially treacherous driving conditions, winter weather poses a threat to senior drivers, many of whom have slower reflexes. Encourage your aging loved one to stay off the roads by looking into other options, such as transportation and delivery services. Also, make sure seniors have ample rations to get them through a long spell of bad weather. Stock up on food and keep all prescriptions filled to last for at least several days so your aging loved one has no reason to leave home.

If travel is unavoidable, make sure your aging loved one's car is winterized and stocked with basic emergency supplies, such as blankets and warm clothing, a windshield scraper, rock salt, a first aid kit, and a flashlight.

5. Loneliness

The combination of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), AKA the “wintertime blues,” and fewer opportunities for socialization can add up to isolation and depression for seniors. Make sure your aging loved one has plenty of chances to spend time with family and friends. Even Skype and FaceTime visits have value!

And while a walk in the sun can work wonders for boosting mood and energy, it’s not always possible. Sitting by a window during sunny weather can offer similar benefits.

6. Fire Hazards

Space heaters, heating pads, fireplaces and stoves are all potential fire hazards if not used properly and/or maintained during winter. Make sure all space heaters are positioned at least three feet away from flammable items, such as bedding and curtains. Have all chimneys and flues inspected and cleaned annually, if necessary; make sure smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors have fresh batteries; and confirm that your aging loved one has a fire extinguisher.

Planning ahead for when winter strikes can be time-consuming. However, you’ll be grateful for the safety of your aging loved one -- and for your own peace of mind -- when the flakes start to fall.

Key Takeaways

  • The challenges of winter are amplified for seniors who may struggle with physical and cognitive limitations.
  • Without intervention from caregivers, winter weather can threaten both the physical health and emotional wellness of seniors.
  • Understanding the hazards and taking steps to remedy them before winter sets in can help keep older adults safe during cold weather season.

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About Marissa Salvesen

My journey into the world of senior living began when I started working for United Methodist Homes in 2010. Starting as an Activities Director at one of our-winning assisted and independent living communities and then transitioning to Marketing and Promotions Manager for UMH, I now work as the Manager of Mission Development, fostering the Mission and Values of our organization. I love sharing stories about the many ways we build meaningful relationships and enrich the lives of those we serve, and am proud to be part of building UMH’s 140-year legacy of caring. Wondering what makes our communities such special places to live and work? Connect with me and find out!

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