An increasing number of aging seniors prefer to remain in their own home later in life. To accommodate, we’ve discussed general home safety tips that give caregivers peace of mind. Now that the cold winter months are here, potential health and safety hazards for seniors only increase.
In addition to obvious hazards associated with cold, ice and snow, underlying issues related to mental and physical health can also affect seniors. Below, we discuss each, including causes, symptoms and treatment.
Anyone living in the Cleveland area through the winter learns to check the forecast more frequently during these months. Snow, ice and frigid conditions can force us to stay home or increase the hazards faced outdoors.
1. Frostbite and Hypothermia
Seniors are more at risk to frostbite and hypothermia than younger adults because their bodies less efficiently regulate heat. To help prevent hypothermia, have seniors stay inside as much as possible and keep the house at 65°F or above. If you suspect hypothermia, check his or her temperature and seek immediate care if it reads below 96°F.
2. Slips and Falls
These can occur anytime the weather is freezing outside, even if the ice is not visible. When outside, wear proper footwear and assist seniors when walking on driveways, paths or sidewalks. When possible, avoid venturing outside and cover any outdoor chores, such as shoveling the driveway or retrieving the mail.
>>>Related Resource: 3 Home Safety Tips for Seniors Who Live Alone
3. Driving Accidents
From 2011 to 2015, Ohio averaged more than 40 car accidents per winter day and was the deadliest driving state over that span. Keep yourself and seniors safe by only driving in wintery conditions when absolutely necessary. And before it becomes too frightful outside, get the car prepped for winter and refill antifreeze, check tires and, if necessary, replace windshield wipers.
In addition to the physical safety of seniors during winter months, physical health should be carefully considered and monitored.
Because influenza strains thrive more easily under cold, dry conditions, peak flu season occurs from December to February. To prepare, healthy seniors should look to get vaccinated early in flu season. If you suspect the flu, some warning signs include difficulty breathing, chest or abdomen pain, sudden dizziness, persistent vomiting, and/or other flu-like symptoms.
5. Fires and Carbon Monoxide
To stay warm, many homes may use a fireplace or other heating source using natural gas or other fuels. Without proper ventilation, these can leak dangerous amounts of carbon dioxide. Watch your senior for headaches, weakness, nausea, dizziness, confusion or blurred vision. Additionally, fireplaces and other heating methods can be fire hazards. Prepare for the winter by having an inspector to check your senior’s home ventilation, assess smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and make sure space heaters are at least three feet from anything flammable.
Mental health during the winter months is something that deserves greater attention across all age groups, especially seniors. Many concerns stem from the dark, short and cold days of winter.
6. Dementia and Sundowning
Sundowners Syndrome—which is marked by increased anger, agitation, confusion and memory loss in the evening for seniors with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease—can intensify during the early dark hours. Creating a more quiet, relaxing environment in the evening can help lessen this condition.
7. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Essentially a form of depression, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is caused by a decrease in natural light, disrupted body clock and causes an imbalance of hormones. The best way to avoid SAD for seniors is to let more light into the home, or turn to light therapy, which uses full-spectrum lights you can purchase in stores.
8. Social Isolation
Woven into each of these winter mental health concerns is senior and social isolation. Social isolation can exacerbate dementia or accelerate the effect of SAD. Be sure to spend as much time as possible with the senior you care for, or organize outings for them with other friends and family members when weather permits.
>>>Related Resource: 5 Ways Caregivers Can Help Combat Senior Isolation
Get Access to More Senior-Specific Resources
This winter, and every season, Busch Funeral and Crematory Services aims to be Northeast Ohio’s most comprehensive resource for preplanners, caregivers, senior healthcare professionals and more. If you’re interested in viewing one of our many senior-specific ebooks, guides or checklists, we encourage you to visit our resource page.
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