Oh, the weather outside is frightful… When it is snowing and cold outside, older adults have many obvious concerns that are not present at other times of year; here is a list of the top five and how you can help minimize the threat of each for your elderly loved ones or neighbors.
1. Heating Costs. We’re all familiar with what happens to our electrical or heating oil bills in the winter. We hear the heater kick on and imagine a cash register dinging as we envision the dollar signs racking up. Elderly persons living on a fixed income with an already tight budget may have extra difficulty coping with this increased expense. They may keep their home at an unsafe temperature in an attempt to minimize the cost, or they may be entirely unable to heat their homes if their utilities are shut off due to past due balances. You can help seniors avoid this by putting them in touch with local resources such as programs provided by the utility company or local charities. You can also help by doing a “welfare check” and visiting neighbors you know who may be at risk of these issues to make sure they have heat or warm clothes and blankets. You could even offer to open your home to neighbors whose homes might become temporarily uninhabitable due to the cold.
2. Fall Risks. Even the most young and nimble of us can slip and fall on slick ice in the winter. Seniors who may already be unsteady on their feet and more prone to tripping are at an even greater risk of falling this time of year. Of course, falls can also have much greater consequences for elderly persons who may have more brittle bones and are therefore more likely to be seriously injured – broken wrists or hips – than younger healthier persons. You can help older people avoid falls by shoveling their driveways and walks for them and laying down salt, ice melt, or kitty litter to reduce ice and provide better traction. You can also encourage them to use a walker or other assistive device, even if they might not otherwise do so at other times of the year.
3. Limited Mobility/Socialization. Due to the fear of falling or driving in inclement weather, many of us simply choose not to go outside when the weather is nasty. This can be especially true for seniors, and may leave them isolated at home for extended periods. You can help by stopping by for a visit, perhaps even with a group of people. You could also offer to assist them in getting out by driving them to events at your local senior center or nearest Juniper Village. Even just calling elderly persons to talk can make them feel less alone and more connected to the outside world.
4. Diminished Nutrient Intake. Meals are a very social activity, so seniors who feel lonely or isolated may not be eating enough which may make them weaker and can compound other dangers. Elderly persons also may struggle to eat well in the winter due to issues with utilities and the associated expenses. You can help by bringing them meals or offering to cook for them. You could also take them to meals at your local senior center or nearest Juniper Village or put them in touch with local resources that provide meals or assistance to help defray the cost of food.
5. Dehydration. You might think dehydration would be less of an issue during the winter, but, in fact, the opposite may be true. Cold air holds less moisture than warm air and can actually sap water from the body. Did you know that by the time someone feels thirsty their body is already dehydrated? It’s true, especially for older adults, because their sense of thirst diminishes as they age. Therefore, it is important to look for other signs of dehydration. Skin that is chapped, red or inflamed can signal excessive cold or wind exposure, but may also be due to water loss. Most experts recommend 8 to 12 cups – standard 8 ounce measuring cups – of fluid every day. Help seniors achieve this by encouraging them to keep a glass or bottle of water nearby and drink small amounts throughout the day. Not only will this help them drink enough, but water is better absorbed that way. If they are not a big fan of plain water, mix it up a little. Provide water with lemon or lime juice, seltzer or sparkling water, herbal tea, or decaffeinated coffee. Broth, milk, and juice also count toward their fluid intake. Just avoid caffeinated beverages; caffeine is a diuretic and may cause the body to excrete more fluid than they drank with it.
Finally, if the weather forecaster is predicting blizzard conditions, heed their warnings and follow all restrictions related to travel and safety. When the weather outside is TRULY frightful, stay inside, wrap up in a comfy blanket, keep an eye on the weather channel and Juniper Communities’ blogs/resources, sip some hot beverage and stay safe!