We New Englanders consider ourselves a hardy bunch when it comes to winter weather! But frigid cold and hazardous climate conditions can pose unique challenges to our elderly population. Here’s how to help the seniors in your life keep safe when temperatures drop:
- Stay Warm: Elderly people produce less body heat than the rest of us, and it can be difficult for them to tell when the temperature is too low. Make sure they are properly setting their thermostat – 65 degrees is optimal – and help them seal any drafty cracks along windows or doors. They should be wearing layers of dry clothing (wet clothing should be removed and changed right away). If Dad’s using the fireplace to make things cozy, make sure he’s doing so safely (able to open and close the flue, and fully extinguishing any embers before bedtime) – and make sure you’ve covered the basics regarding carbon monoxide safety!
- Drive Safely: Adults over 65 are involved in more accidents per mile than almost any other age group. This risk greatly increases on slippery roads – so talk to mom or dad about avoiding the snow and ice if at all possible; winterizing their car with proper anti-freeze, scrapers, first aid kit, and shovel; taking public transportation when it makes sense; stocking up on groceries and other necessities to prevent unnecessary trips; and perhaps making a driving schedule with siblings or other caregivers to avoid the possibility of an accident.
- Venture Outside Carefully: Preventing falls for seniors is critical, but especially challenging with winter precipitation thrown in the mix. Make sure mom’s driveway and walkways are clear and regularly shoveled/sanded. She needs warm and sturdy winter footwear with non-skid soles, and should never leave the house without her walking aid, if she uses one.
- Eat Well: The return of cold and flu season makes it especially important for seniors to keep their immune system strong with healthy eating. If Dad’s struggling to cook nutritious meals for himself, you may want to look into a community resource like Meals on Wheels. Otherwise, suggest one-pot meals like soups and stews made with lots of veggies and low-sodium broth. Also, recommend that he limit his caffeine and alcohol intake, since both inhibit the body’s ability to retain heat.
And of course, you’ll want to confirm that your loved ones have everything they need in case of emergency, like a charged cell phone with emergency contacts; batteries; non-perishables; flashlights, and blankets that are easily accessible.