Although spring is just around the corner, the sighting of his shadow by Punxsutawney Phil on Groundhog Day (February 2nd) tells us that there will be at least 6 more weeks of winter weather. For those of us in colder climates, this means MORE COLD weather. And for those of us caring for seniors, it is a time to remember that the colder weather can pose health and safety challenges for these loved ones.

The American Geriatric Society Foundation for health states that since older adults have slower metabolisms, they don’t produce enough heat from their own body. They are also frequently affected by poor circulation and thus are prone to cold hands, feet, ears, nose, etc. That’s why it’s difficult for them to FEEL warm and why it’s important to know how to keep them warm, both indoors and outdoors.

Some strategies to consider:
• Keep thermostat between 68 and 70 degrees. It will be an additional expense, but a necessary one.  (Low income seniors might be able to receive help with their heating bills. Check with the National Energy Assistance Referral (NEAR). A list of participating states (and other available assistance programs) can be obtained at http://www.liheap.ncat.org/profiles/energyhelp.htm.

•  Space heaters are a good way to heat a small space, such as a bedroom or den, but be very careful that the heater has enough safety features so as not to place your loved-one in a dangerous situation. My own father tends to keep his room at 78-80 degrees.
Advise your elder to optimize clothing choices for warmth during the day by dressing in layers of loose-fitting, lightweight garments.  This helps to keep warm air between each layer.

• Layering additional blankets on the bed at night is helpful and works to keep warmth between layers.

• When going outdoors, elders should wear mittens instead of gloves because they allow space for warm air and for the fingers to touch each other, thereby generating warmth.
Eating enough food to keep their weight up is also important in keeping heat inside the body.  Warms foods like oatmeal and soups are comforting and nutritious.

 With the cold weather often comes continued ice and snow.  This can increase an elderly person’s chance of falling, so precautions must be taken for this situation, as well. I actually try to keep my father OFF the ice and snow as much as possible by parking the car in the garage and dropping him at the curb in front of buildings when possible. 

It’s not always possible to do this though, so some other suggestions would be:
• Provide your loved-one with non-skid boots to wear outdoors.  Even when he or she is using a walker, the non-skid boots will be an improvement.

• Replace the rubber tips on canes or walkers well before they are worn so that they won’t become slippery when wet.

• Pay attention to the walking surface and avoid any “slippery” areas. Keep sidewalks at  the elder’s home clear and apply salt or sand to icy patches. Keep a good, stable (stabilize with carpet-stay) doormat so that boots will not be slippery when re-entering the home.

• Because seniors are often confined to their homes during these icy cold months, and can become lonely, check with your local area on aging or your place of worship for programs with “senior buddy visits”.


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