During the winter months, ice, snow, and cold temperatures can make life challenging for everyone -especially for the elderly population. Slippery sidewalks and cold weather can cause a wide range of injuries and illnesses, especially in climates like ours. At the Brookhouse Home, we have the benefit of a cozy home but we all have to deal with the long, harsh climate of New England winters.
1. Dress for warmth
Cold temperatures can lead to frostbite and hypothermia, a condition in which the body temperature dips too low. That’s why it is recommended that older adults wear warm socks, a heavy coat, a warm hat, gloves, and a scarf to preserve body heat if heading outdoors. In very cold temperatures, they should cover all exposed skin and use a scarf to cover their mouth. Further, it is important to wear a waterproof coat or jacket in variable conditions and change your clothes right away if they get damp or wet. Further, If you confirm via thermometer that your older loved one’s temperature has dipped below 95 degrees, seek medical assistance immediately. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, death rates attributed to excessive cold or hypothermia increased over the past decade steadily among the aged among those in both metropolitan and rural areas.
2. Avoid slipping on ice
Icy, snowy roads and sidewalks make it easy to slip and fall, especially as we are having a particularly cold and icy winter. “Unfortunately, falls are a common occurrence for senior citizens, especially during the winter months,” says Dr. Stanley Wang, a physician at Stanford Hospital in Palo Alto, California in an article posted in the Seniors Bluebook. Often these falls cause major injuries such as hip and wrist fractures, head trauma, and major lacerations.
While younger people often recover relatively quickly from such injuries, older adults face complications, which Wang says are a leading cause of death from injury in men and women over the age of 65. For that reason, he recommends older adults wear shoes with good traction and non-skid soles and stay inside until the roads are clear. Replacing a worn cane tip can make walking easier, and older people are advised to take their shoes off as soon as they return indoors, because often snow and ice attach to the soles and, once melted, can lead to slippery conditions inside.
3. Be aware of wintertime depression
Because it can be difficult and dangerous to get around, many older adults have less contact with others during cold months, the CDC notes, particularly during these Covid times. This can breed feelings of loneliness and isolation. To help avoid these issues, family members can check in on seniors as often as possible or send their loved one to adult day care; a short, daily phone call can also make a big difference. Seniors can also arrange a check-in system with neighbors and friends, where each person looks in on one or two others daily. The Brookhouse Home works through these times with plenty of indoor activities including exercise, book club, Paint n’ Sip, and sharing and caring discussions.
4. Eat a varied diet
Because people spend more time indoors and may eat a smaller variety of foods, nutritional deficits, especially vitamin D deficiency (which has been associated with health concerns like cognitive decline, depression, and osteoporosis, among others) can be a problem. During these winter months with shorter days and less sun, Nicole Morrissey, a registered dietician in southwest Michigan, recommends that older people consume foods that are fortified with Vitamin D, such as milk, grains, and seafood options like tuna and salmon.
Further, it is important on many levels to drink alcohol moderately, if at all. Alcoholic drinks can make you lose body heat.
5. Illness, Medicines, and Cold WeatherSome illnesses may make it harder for your body to stay warm. Thyroid problems can make it hard to maintain a normal body temperature, according to the CDC. Diabetes can keep blood from flowing normally to provide warmth. Parkinson’s disease and arthritis can make it hard to put on more clothes, use a blanket, or get out of the cold. Memory loss can cause a person to go outside without the right clothing. Talk with your doctor about your health problems and how to prevent hypothermia. Taking some medicines and not being active also can affect body heat. These include medicines you get from your doctor and those you buy over-the-counter, such as some cold medicines. Ask your doctor if the medicines you take may affect body heat. Always talk with your doctor before you stop taking any medication.