For people who are caregivers for elderly friends or family members, the winter months can be particularly difficult. The drop in temperatures, snow and ice and the increase of illnesses make it a challenging time of the year for people who live in colder climates.
There are some extra precautions that should be taken for senior care during this time of year. It's also a good idea to check on any other elderly friends or neighbors who be on their own during this time as well.
Properly prepare the home for cold weather
It's important to make sure that the house does not get too cold, as hypothermia is even possible inside. Thermostats should be set to 68 degrees at a minimum. If devices are being used to help heat the home, like fireplaces or space heaters, it is imperative that they are being operated correctly and safely. Chimneys should be cleaned and inspected each year to be sure that there are no fire hazards present. Nothing flammable should ever be stored close to a fireplace or space heater, and neither of these things should be in use unless carefully supervised.
Everyone inside should also dress in layers, and keep plenty of blankets in their rooms at night to keep core body temperatures from dropping. The elderly lose body heat faster than younger people do, so it's important to keep them warm.
Outdoor winter weather preparation
Seniors should have limited exposure to the elements outside, but it's not fair or realistic to coop them up indoors all winter long. Try to run errands for them and make sure the house is always stocked with good food and medicines to limit the number of unnecessary trips outdoors.
Older people are more susceptible to getting a serious injury if they slip and fall on the ice, so it's important to keep a walkway clear for them. Keep any heavy foot traffic areas shoveled and salted. Outdoor steps should always have a railing to provide extra balance. It is also helpful to hold the loved one's hand as they walk to make sure that they don't suddenly slip and fall.
Anyone who goes outside in winter weather should dress in warm layers, but clothing should not be too tight, as that can restrict blood flow and make the body more vulnerable to the negative effects of the cold. It's best to have water-resistant boots and jackets to keep from getting damp, which can also exacerbate the toll cold takes on the body.
It's important to have an emergency plan if the house loses power during a storm. If the house has a generator, it should never be run indoors. Many people die each winter from carbon monoxide poisoning because of generators that are run inside or in an otherwise enclosed space. Even garages or sheds can open people up to this unnecessary risk, so only allow generators outside.
If the home has no generator, be prepared to go to another location. Stay with family or friends, get a hotel, or if need be, find where your local emergency shelter is. It's not worth the risk to have an elderly loved one try and spend the night in an unheated home.
Signs of hypothermia
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the early warning signs of hypothermia are shivering, confusion, drowsiness or slurred speech. More advanced hypothermia will change a person's skin tone, heart rate and breathing pattern.
If you suspect a person may have hypothermia, check his temperature. If it is below 95 degrees, he needs to be taken immediately to an emergency room. Otherwise, take him to a warmer place, have him change out of any damp clothes and into layers of dry clothes and wrap him with blankets.