5 Ways to Keep the Elderly Safe in Extreme Winter Weather

Brutally cold temps require extra precautions
to keep our senior loved ones safe. 
by Dianna Malkowski, physician assistant and registered dietitian

As historically cold weather moves through the Midwest and other parts of the country, the elderly are especially susceptible to its dangers.

The elderly are especially at risk during weather extremes for several reasons: limited mobility, instability that can lead to slips and falls, physical changes that make it difficult to regulate body temperature, and flu dangers. The brutally cold temperatures we’ve been experiencing require extra precautions to keep our senior loved ones safe.

Home and wellness monitoring: Elderly friends, relatives or neighbors who live alone should be called or visited once a day. Families who live a distance from their senior loved ones should call daily or ask someone to check on their well being and home’s heating system. A senior’s home should have emergency telephone numbers posted where the homeowner and visitors can clearly see them. Equipping the home with an emergency monitoring system, large-button amplified telephone and other aging-in-place innovations help provide safety and peace of mind.

Avoiding heating-related dangers: In extremely cold weather, people often try to heat their homes using unsafe methods. Space heaters should never be used unattended, for long periods of time, on surfaces that are not heat-safe, or near curtains and other flammable materials. Candles should never be left unattended. Cooking ovens and grills should never be used as heat sources because of the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning and fire hazard.

Guarding against hypothermia: The elderly are at risk in cold weather because the body’s ability to maintain a constant internal temperature decreases with age. In addition to sleeping with a down comforter and using a heated blanket or lap throw indoors, it’s helpful to dress in layers, paying special attention to hands and feet with warm slippers and perhaps even light gloves. Outdoors, it’s essential to dress in warm layers, including hats, gloves and scarves to warm air before breathing it in.

Preventing slips and falls: Tips to prevent falls outdoors include shuffling slowly to keep two feet on the ground, wearing nonslip shoes and keeping hands free for balance. Canes with large quad bases can make walking safer and easier, especially on uneven surfaces. While rubber cane tips and bases can help with stability on slippery areas, it’s important to keep surfaces free of snow and ice. Places to look for snow removal help include family, friends, neighbors, churches and senior centers. Download our free fall prevention guide.

Fighting the flu: Older adults are at greatest risk of complications from the flu, including dehydration and pneumonia, according to the American Red Cross. If an elderly loved one becomes ill, encourage him to see a doctor and take him if necessary. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are three ways to fight the flu: (1) getting a yearly flu vaccine; (2) stopping the spread of germs by staying home and avoiding sick people; and (3) taking flu antiviral drugs if a doctor prescribes them.

Dianna Malkowski is a board-certified physician assistant and registered dietitian specializing in diabetes, cancer, wound healing, therapeutic diets and nutrition support. She serves on the board of professional advisers for The CareGiver Partnership and enjoys working with patients and caregivers alike.

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About The CareGiver Partnership. The CareGiver Partnership helps caregivers and their loved ones with answers to their caregiving questions, including information about home health care products and supplies, from our Wisconsin-based team of Product Specialists who are all current or former caregivers. The company’s Web site provides the largest online library of resources on subjects most important to caregivers — from arthritis to assisted living, and Parkinson’s to prostate cancer — as well as access to more than 3,000 home care products for incontinence, skin care, mobility, home safety and daily living aids. The CareGiver Partnership was founded in 2004 by Lynn Wilson of Neenah, Wisc. Visithttp://www.caregiverpartnership.com to learn more or call 1-800-985-1353.


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