As the temperatures begin to dip and the falling leaves give way to snow and frost, safely weathering the winter months rises to the top of our priority list. Whether you are a senior living on your own or caring for an older family member, these winter safety tips will ensure you not only weather the season’s storms, but emerge safely into spring.
1. Install or check smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
If your home is heated by natural gas, wood, coal or oil, now is the time to install or check all of your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Replacing the batteries in your smoke detector every time you change your clocks will help you ensure your safety through winter months. It will also help you avoid the incessant chirping when a battery begins to die.
While smoke detectors can alert you to a fire in your home, carbon monoxide is arguably more dangerous. This odorless, colorless, tasteless gas is found in the fumes of burning stoves, gas furnaces, fireplaces, and ranges. It is also toxic to anyone who breathes it in high concentrations.
According to the CDC, every year more than 20,000 people visit the ER and 400 people die from carbon monoxide poisoning. Detectors, equipped with loud, high-pitched alarms are designed to alert you when there is a toxic build up of the gas in your home and are easy to install and maintain.
2. Park your car in the garage.
While many of us use our garages exclusively for storage, your garage can provided added protection against falls on particularly icy days. Rather than risking a slip and fall in your own driveway, make some room among your priceless heirlooms in the garage for your automobile. Not only will your vehicle be warmer for you when you get ready to drive, you will be able to avoid any slippery parts of your driveway.
3. Hire someone for snow removal.
Shoveling snow has been shown to equate exercising full throttle on a treadmill. It also could be hazardous to your health. According to one study,100 people in the US die from shoveling snow every year. The combination of exertion and cold temperatures causes the blood vessels leading to the heart to constrict, which could result in a heart attack.
Even pushing a heavy snowblower through wet snow is enough to send older family members to the hospital. While people in peak physical health are able to handle the strain, those which high blood pressure, known heart disease or a prior heart attack should leave the snow removal to professionals.
4. Don’t stop moving.
As tempting as it may be to bundle up and stay home for four months of the year, moderate exercise is an important part of keeping winter ailments like respiratory infections and pneumonia at bay. In fact, moderate exercise has been shown to improve the immune system’s ability to fight viruses and infections that seem to plague us all during winter. Even in those who catch a slight cold, continuing to exercise can shorten the length and severity of symptoms.
As an added bonus, exercise improves circulation and helps you regulate body temperature. This can keep you from feeling chilled in a heated house. Head to the mall for a morning walk or sign up for a senior fitness class at your local gym. Not only will your body thank you, these venues offer you a chance to socialize with other seniors and ward off seasonal depression.
5. Prepare for power outages.
Sure as Christmas comes in December, the power will flicker with the first ice storm of the season. Before you find yourself without light or warmth, have a plan in place for what you will do in the event of an outage. Be sure to have extra blankets, flashlights, food that does not need to be cooked, and a way to communicate with a friend or family member. While most power outages do not affect cell phones, many portable phones are useless when the electricity goes out. Be sure to have a back up just in case your primary mode of communication no longer works.
6. Mix and mingle!
Winter brings holidays which also tends to compound loneliness and depression in seniors. Fortunately, many communities, colleges and churches offer classes, seminars and activities geared specifically to seniors, many of which are free. Take advantage of these opportunities to meet other people with similar interests and even discover a new hobby to help those long, winter days go by much faster. Researchers at UC Davis have also discovered that exposure to light, even if the sun is covered by clouds, can relieve many seasonal depression symptoms. The process of traveling to a new location, even if it is done in a car with the windows up, will help relieve many feelings of sadness or moodiness that often accompany winter months.
7. Eat your vegetables.
s tempting as it may be to subsist on soup all winter, avoid the temptation. Fresh fruits and vegetables like apples, oranges, bananas, squash, and greens can offer much needed fiber, antioxidants and vitamin B while Vitamin D-fortified dairy products and breads can help ward off seasonal depression while you spend time indoors. Be sure to include plenty of high-quality lean protein to help you maintain bone and muscle mass and drink water to keep your skin from drying out with the elements.
What can family members do for you?
This will be a question you answer ad nauseam. In lieu of smiling and saying, “Nothing. I’m fine,” hand your loved one this easy checklist.
Insulate water pipes that are at a risk of freezing.
Install/check carbon monoxide and smoke detectors.
Make a plan for power outages.
Trim back branches or shrubs that have grown during the summer that would endanger the home, power lines or other structures.
Hire someone to remove snow and ice.
Clean out the garage so your loved one’s car can be safely parked inside.
Make sure there are fresh batteries in flashlights and a supply of food and water is within easy reach.
Call or visit at least once a week to check in.
Winter does not have to be a scary time of year. With a little preparation by a committed team, it can be safely enjoyed by both seniors and their family and friends. However, if the prospect of facing another long, cold season alone is just too much, allow the team at Relative Care to help you devise a solution that is right for you.