Tips for Seniors to Cope with the Cold This Winter

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As the colder winter draws in, and we move into January, it’s important to know how to care for yourself and your loved ones. These colder temperatures, and the unpredictable inclement and severe weather, can be especially difficult for seniors, who often have trouble regulating their body temperatures and are more susceptible to colds and other illnesses. 

Luckily, there are a number of steps you can take to help make things easier for seniors throughout the winter, which we’ve detailed in this post. 

Risks of the Cold 

Seniors are especially at risk when it comes to hypothermia, and other conditions that are caused, or exacerbated, by colder temperatures, in addition to being more likely to have chronic health conditions which can make the winter period especially troublesome for them.  

In addition to these health risks, seniors must also be wary of dehydration during the winter months, something that can be a problem with both age, and as a side effect for a number of medications. 

The cold, dry air is also a contributing factor when it comes to dehydration, making it vital that seniors remember to drink water frequently. Dehydration can cause serious complications and health problems in seniors, and some of the warning signs include infrequent urination, dark urine, dizziness, and confusion. 

In addition to these physical risks, winter can also be a challenging time for people’s mental health. As the cold weather forces seniors indoors, something that can be even more detrimental if they’re isolating or unable to see friends and family, leading to increased risk of anxiety and depression. That’s why it’s vitally important that they stay active and stimulated even whilst contained indoors. For helpful tips on how they can do just that, here’s our blog on mind exercises for seniors.

Stay Safe This Winter 

Now that you understand the potential risks, it’s time to delve into what can be done to safeguard against the winter cold. So, here are some of the best ways to stay warm and safe this winter. 

Temperature Control 

During the winter cold, it can be understandably tempting to ratchet the thermostat right up and make your home as warm as possible—however, this isn’t necessarily the best course of action for seniors. 

Because their bodies often have difficulty regulating temperature, due to a slower metabolism and less efficient circulation, they can struggle with sudden and dramatic changes in temperature. That’s why it’s better for them if the thermostat is kept at a steady temperature between 18-23 Celsius (65-75 Fahrenheit).

Another great way of keeping warm, one that’s effective as well as cozy, is to ensure there are plenty of layers covering the body. This means plenty of blankets, as well as dressing in warmer clothing with multiple layers, even if you have no plans to go outdoors. 

And don’t forget the feet, which are often at greater risk because of decreased circulation. For this either warm socks or closed-back slippers with slip-resistant soles are an ideal solution. 

Be Vigilant 

When it comes to heating solutions, some require more care and vigilance than others. Specifically we’re thinking about electric blankets and space heaters. Both are tremendous options, but it’s also worth considering the risks and making sure they’re being used safely. 

With eclectic blankets, care needs to be taken to ensure that there is no risk of burns, electric shocks, or fires. If your electric blanket is more than 2-3 years old, it’s definitely worth considering a replacement, or having it inspected by an expert. This is because the coils inside the fabric, as well as the power cables and controls, can all become damaged over time. 

When purchasing a new electric blanket, make sure to look for models that have an automatic shutdown feature, and be sure to use your blanket responsibly. Individuals with poor circulation or nerve damage, both common amongst seniors, should be extremely cautious when using heated blankets, and may be wise to avoid them, or consult their physician first. 

When it comes to space heaters, they can be sorely needed sources of warmth throughout the winter, provided caution and care are exercised whilst using them. If using a gas powered heater or generator, always make sure there is at least one working carbon monoxide detector in the home, and that there’s one for each room where the heater is likely to be used. 

For electric heaters, make sure all the power cords have been inspected for fraying and damage before use, and remove and replace any damaged devices. Make sure that heaters are kept away from flammable materials such as fabric and paper, at all times. And ensure that you regularly check the batteries in all the smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors in the home. 

Stay Safe Outside

When venturing outside in the winter, it’s important for seniors to take extra care and precaution. This means ensuring that they wear multiple layers of warm, comfortable clothing, ideally loose fitting, with a waterproof final later. Ensure there is as little exposed skin as possible, to minimize the risk of frostbite. 

As winter comes with both snow and ice, it’s also important to be wary of fall risk. Sidewalks that have become slick with ice, or melting snow, can present a serious hazard. That’s why it’s vital that you ensure any porch, driveway, steps, etc. that they have to walk through have been comprehensively salted and shovelled clear. When walking around, properly fitting shoes with non-slip soles are worn, and it’s advised to take a mobility aid with you at all times. 

Have An Emergency Plan

With the colder months comes the increased risk of extreme weather, and in turn, disruptions. Whether it’s through floods, storms, or other severe weather phenomena, it’s possible for seniors to become isolated or cut off. Something that makes having an emergency plan vital, here are a few steps you can take to ensure that you and your loved ones are prepared for the worst:

  • Prepare a list of emergency contacts.
    Make sure that they have a list of essential contact numbers, stored in an easily accessible location. In addition to friends and family, this should include the numbers for a local doctor’s office, as well as gas and electric companies, plus any other resources that may be required in the event of an emergency.

  • Have an emergency response plan in place.
    Make sure that everyone is aware of the safety precautions that need to be taken in the event of a severe weather event. Regularly double-check with your loved ones to make sure they’re still aware of this, as well as including friends and neighbours who would be able to provide help or shelter in an emergency.

  • Prepare an emergency safety kit and ensure that supplies are available.
    It’s important to be prepared with an emergency kit that can be used in the event of a storm, and this should include first aid supplies, a flashlight with extra batteries, and a radio. There should also be emergency reserves of canned food, and other non-perishable food items, as well as bottled water and essential hygiene products. 

This can seem daunting but don’t worry, all you need to do is plan ahead and stay prepared, and you will have a cozy and comfortable time this winter!