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Winter Weather Safety for Seniors

Gurwin Family of Healthcare Services

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The winter season can be breathtaking when the ground and trees are covered with brilliant white snow. Although beautiful, snow and cold temperatures can make life challenging, especially for our seniors.

The top three challenges faced by many seniors in the cold weather months are falls, hypothermia and depression. Check out these winter weather safety tips to keep yourself or the seniors in your life healthy throughout the winter.

Eliminate Fall Risks

Slippery sidewalks and outside steps pose the most danger to seniors who go outside in the extreme cold or snowy conditions. A simple walk to the mailbox can be hazardous if the path is not cleared. Whenever possible, stick to cleared sidewalks, and wear appropriate shoes with traction (not house slippers). Salt areas that have or are prone to ice, or have someone do it for you. Stock up on supplies to minimize the number of times you have to venture out in bad weather.

Prevent Hypothermia (low body temperature)

Hypothermia is a lower-than-average body temperature, and this can happen more easily as we get older and move around less. Preventing hypothermia, however, is relatively easy. First, seniors should keep their home thermostats at 68 degrees (ask for assistance from the LIHEAP if you need help paying your utility bill). Layer clothing to keep warm, and eat well to keep your metabolism moving. Finally, when venturing outside, be sure your head is covered and you are wearing gloves. (Those with diabetes, poor circulation and arthritis should be extra cautious when going out in the cold due to a potentially dangerous lack of sensation in the extremities, preventing them from feeling the effects of the cold.)

Cold weather can also cause dryness to frail and elderly skin. Keep skin moist by drinking lots of water and eating soups or other liquid-based foods. If possible, use a humidifier in the house to keep the air from becoming too dry, and moisturize skin daily with creams or lotions, especially after showers or baths.

Thwart Depression

When the weather is bad, we tend to see less of the people we care for. Being restricted from social activities can be depressing. Keep in touch with friends and family through the phone, face time, e-mail or other ways to keep your mind stimulated and interest piqued. Stock up on books or movies to help pass the time till the weather rebounds.

Get Help From an Aide

If your aging loved one is living alone at home, enlisting the help of a home health aide or companion can be an ideal solution to the many challenges that inclement weather brings. Trained companions can run errands, prepare healthy meals, assist with housekeeping and accompanying seniors to doctor appointments, as well as provide companionship that can help prevent isolation and depression. If greater assistance with tasks such as dressing is needed, a home health aide is trained in such areas to help. The stable presence a companion or aide can bring to a senior’s life gives family members peace of mind knowing their loved one is safe and comfortable -- no matter what the weather brings.

Author Nancy Geiger is the director of the Gurwin Home Care Agency. She is happy to assist caregivers with finding an appropriate care situation for a loved one. Contact Nancy at 631-493-1282 or 516-539-2300, or via email at ngeiger@gurwin.org.

For information about the Gurwin Family of Healthcare Services, including the Memory Care Unit, visit www.gurwin.org.