Wintertime Wellness for Senior Loved Ones
As the coldest months approach, you might be winterizing your car, home and garden. Don't forget that elderly loved ones also may need help staying safe and healthy during this time of year.
Even as they experience health problems or memory loss, most seniors want to age in place, staying in their own homes rather than moving to an assisted living facility or other supportive community. Being safe and healthy at home is a little more challenging during the winter! But families who hire in-home care have an easier time of it.
If your senior loved one uses home care—or if you're thinking about adding this important resource to your elder care plan—there are many ways your home caregiver can support your loved one's well-being this winter while providing peace of mind for you:
Winter weather raises the risk that a senior will fall, often with debilitating results. Professional in-home caregivers can keep front steps and walkways free of ice and snow, and can provide a supportive arm as your loved one navigates sidewalks. (To learn more about fall prevention, download a free, easy-to-use Fall Prevention Guide, created by Right at Home with Dr. Rein Tideiksaar, a leading expert on fall prevention for the elderly.)
Before cold weather arrives, give your loved one's home a winter weather safety inspection. Have the heating system serviced professionally, inspect the fireplace and chimney, and be sure smoke alarms and CO (carbon monoxide) detectors are in good working order. If you can't be around to deal with the service professional because you live at a distance or will be at work, have the home care worker be there when the technician arrives.
In wintertime, it's tempting to hole up in the house and avoid exercise. But seniors who hunker down for the winter often realize that when spring comes around, they've undergone a notable decline in strength and independence. The caregiver can accompany your loved one for walks if it's safe, or provide transportation to indoor exercise opportunities—and if it's just too cold and snowy to go out at all, the caregiver can set up equipment so your loved one can exercise at home.
People of every age can feel blue when the days are dark and the cold traps us indoors. For homebound seniors, especially those who are living alone, loneliness and isolation can lead to depression that threatens their physical and cognitive health. Professional caregivers can transport clients to their favorite activities. Or, if treacherous road conditions make outings unsafe, caregivers provide companionship and engage clients in favorite pastimes at home, such as books, crafts, going on Facebook or playing favorite games.
As we grow older, we become more sensitive to the cold. An indoor temperature that might be comfortable for a younger person can be dangerously cold for an older adult. Compounding the danger, common health problems and some medications make seniors less aware that their body temperature is dropping. Professional caregivers can ascertain that the indoor temperature is safe; help clients dress for the weather, inside or out; and be alert for slurred speech, shivering, confusion and other signs of hypothermia.
When it's hard to get to the store in winter weather, older adults often resort to subsisting on junk food or eating out of a can. The in-home caregiver can take your loved one to the grocery store or go shopping while your loved one is safe at home, and then prepare nutritious meals that meet your loved one's dietary needs—and of course, a healthy holiday treat now and then!
It's harder to manage health conditions in the winter. Seniors may have a lot of doctor appointments and take an array of medications, and then there's that all-important annual flu shot—but how can they get to the clinic or pharmacy during winter months? A professional caregiver can coordinate appointments and take your loved one to the doctor and the pharmacy.
Ice, storms and snow can knock out the electricity to homes, sometimes for a prolonged period of time. This not only affects the home's heating and lights—if a senior relies on oxygen, or a power mobility device or other electrical medical equipment, an outage can be life-threatening. Using candles and alternate heat sources can be dangerous. Families who live at a distance breathe a sigh of relief knowing that a reliable home care agency is ascertaining that their loved one is safe at home, or can provide transportation to a warming center or other designated shelter. Be sure to work with an agency that can provide backup if the regular caregiver can't make it to your loved one's place.
Home Care for the Holidays
Even seniors who live in a mild climate face certain winter challenges—and the holidays can be just that! You might not think of the winter holidays as a "challenge"—but for seniors with mobility problems or memory loss, this can be a sad time. In-home caregivers help make the holidays merrier, perhaps assisting your loved one with decorating, shopping for gifts and wrapping them, attending services at their faith community, throwing a little party for friends, or getting ready for your arrival if you live out of town—whatever traditions of the season are meaningful. If it's not possible for you to be with your loved one over the winter holidays, plan something special for your loved one and the caregiver to do.
For information on topics related to home care and healthcare, visit our Home Care and Healthcare Advocacy group on LinkedIn.