Safety Tips for Seniors in the Winter Months

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Updated 7/21/17 2:17 pm Seniors and caregivers everywhere are preparing for the winter chill, and Alert1 wants to help by giving you guys' winter safety tips.

As most people can attest, the colder months come with a number of additional challenges. These range from winterizing the home to navigating more difficult conditions on the road. The challenges of the winter months can be even more strenuous if you are a senior caregiver.

Cold weather not only creates the potential for more emergencies, but it can also put older adults at a greater health risk.If you are a family caregiver, preparing your loved ones for the impending change in seasons is crucial.

Here, Alert1 reviews the top issues seniors face in the winter season: hypothermia and Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Hypothermia Affects Seniors

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Cold weather poses a number of health risks to seniors that do not typically affect younger adults. Most notably, the elderly are more likely to get hypothermia than the general population. Cold weather in the winter season typically lowers internal body temperature and hypothermia occurs when a person’s normal temperature drops from 98.6 degrees to 95 degrees.

Hypothermia can be deadly if not treated quickly. Many people are surprised to learn that it can set in anywhere. You don’t have to be living in a cold weather state and you don’t even have to be outside. Chronic health conditions such as senior arthritis and medications such as some over-the-counter cold remedies can lower the body’s resistance to cold.

Your loved one’s internal body temperature may drop and they may not even realize it. Seniors can even develop a mild form of hypothermia in a cold room. Alert1 has safety tips to help prevents your loving senior from getting hypothermia.

Tips to Prevent Hypothermia for Seniors

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As a caregiver, you can help protect your loved one from hypothermia during the winter. Here are three key ways you can help prevent hypothermia in your loved one.

Visit the Doctor

A good place to start is with their medical history. Ask your loved one’s doctor if any of the medical conditions they have or prescriptions they take could be affecting their body heat.

Reviewing their medical history helps you understand what the risks are. A doctor can best consult you on new medication plans or lifestyle changes to prevent hypothermia.

Check Their House

Examine your loved one's entire home so that it's prepared to protect them. Stock up their fridge or prepare hot meals for them while you're away. Buy them a portable heater to make their home extra warm. You can even look through their closet so they have all the winter essentials when they go outside.

Regardless of where your loved one lives, whether they are aging in place or they are residing in an assisted living facility, pay attention to the thermostat and make sure they are dressing appropriately.

Get a Medical Alert

A mobile medical alert is a great to have during winter. Indoors or outside, your loved one could face a serious emergency from the freezing weather. Their heater could break down or they could be stuck in a snow storm outside. Should these happen, your loved one could be at great risk for hypothermia.

With a medical alert, they can press the help button and get immediate assistance wherever they are. That way, they're less likely to develop hypothermia. 

Learn More About the Mobile Medical Alert

Signs Your Loved One May Have Hypothermia

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Caregivers should be on the lookout for the “umbles” – stumbles, mumbles, fumbles, and grumbles. Symptoms of hypothermia may include (but are not limited to):
  • weak pulse
  • shallow breathing
  • confusion or sleepiness
  • slowed or slurred speech
  • stiffness in the arms or legs
  • change in behavior or personal appearance
  • slow reactions or poor control over body movement

If you think your loved one may have hypothermia with these symptoms, proceed to the following action plan.

  1. Take their temperature. If the reading does not rise above 96 degrees, call for emergency help. 
  2. Keep them warm and dry. Wrap them in blankets and move them to the warmest place in the house. You can also gently sit or lie next to them and share your body heat. 
  3. Give them energy. make your loved one hot tea or soup to sip on while they wait. Feeding them will provide more energy and warmth to the 

Boosting your senior’s internal body temperature is the first priority when hypothermia strikes. To learn more about hypothermia, check out this list of Winter Weather Frequently Asked Questions by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. You will find answers to questions about hypothermia, frostbite, wind chill effect, and more. 

Seniors and the Winter Blues

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While there is a serious risk of hypothermia for seniors during the winter, it is not the only health risk they face. In late fall and winter, 4 to 6 percent of Americans experience a form of depression called winter-onset Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Another 10 to 20 percent have milder cases. SAD is more common among younger adults, but senior caregivers should still be aware of its risks.

People who struggle with depression or anxiety year round, as well as people who are more housebound, may find their typical symptoms intensified by the isolating effects of cold winter weather. Many seniors live alone, struggle with feeling isolated from family and friends, or take medication that can also increase feelings of depression.

Symptoms of Seniors with SAD

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SAD looks and feels differently for everyone, but caregivers should be on the lookout for changes in their loved one’s mood or personality. Symptoms of SAD may include (but are not limited to):
  • changing sleep habits
  • anxious or “empty” feelings
  • irritability or restlessness
  • loss of interest or pleasure in formerly enjoyable activities
  • fatigue or decreased energy
  • difficulty concentrating, remembering details or making decisions

If you notice any of the symptoms in your loved one, check in with them and make sure they're okay mentally. They may not understand now, but they'll appreciate your gesture and may seek additional help.

How to Recover from SAD

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Sad is a serious condition to deal with during winter. If you suspect your loved one has sad, you can take the following steps to make them feel better.

Get the Right Treatment

When you visit the doctor, They may recommend senior therapy, support groups, or medicinal treatment. Talking therapy can also help seniors overcome or better cope with some of the symptoms of SAD. 

The recommend treatments above are the same methods a doctor would prescribe for other types of depression. Be sure to consult your physician to find a specific treatment.  

Visit Them Frequently

If your loved one lives alone, make it a point to visit them more and be more engaging during your visit. Bring multiple family members to visit your aging loved one to properly socialize. Sit by the window and read a book out loud, do a crossword puzzle together, or play cards.

You may not be around them 24/7, but meangingful visits will improve their mood. Your time will offset the loneliness they often feel during the winter months.

Keep Them Moving

If the weather permits and your loved one is physically able to, get outside into the fresh air every day. Physical activity, even if it is only a few minutes, will help boost their mood. A simple walk could be all they need to smile that day. 

If your loved one doesn't feel safe outside, they can take a mobile medical alert with them. They may get lonely and need someone to talk to, so they can press the help button for a kind operator to comfort them. 

Stay Prepared for Winter

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It's no secret that winter weather is treacherous, so it's important to be prepared. Prior to the onset of cold weather, my friends and colleagues who are caregivers are busy getting their loved ones ready for the change in seasons. Whether it's gifting your loved one a mobile medical alert system or cooking their meals, these steps can help your loved one healthy and happy for the winter season.

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