Caregiving in the Winter: 3 Things to Watch For

(Guest Post) With snow in the forecast, we’ve got some practical and helpful reminders for keeping your family member safe in the cold, ice and snow. Here are 3 key things to watch for during the winter:

blue shovel in snow

1) Falls: About 1/3 of seniors over the age of 65 falls each year, with that number rising to over 50% of all seniors over the age 80. Falls are serious business and can lead to further injury and hospitalization. In addition to taking basic precautions in the home including putting down reflective guide tape and lighting around stairs and ledges, and installing assistive equipment like shower grab bars and stair rails, experts also recommend:

  • Protecting against ice – Do not let an elderly family member walk in snow or ice unassisted if at all; even with a walker or cane, the dangers of slick ice are too risky.
  • Checking medicine side effects – Double check the side effects of any medicines your family member is taking to see if dizziness or tiredness may affect their day-to-day mobility.
  • Visiting the eye doctor – Noticing your loved one squinting or having to hold on to walls and furniture when walking? Get an eye check-up to make sure no outstanding vision issues are impacting their mobility.
  • Exercise – Routine exercise and stretching, from daily brisk walks to yoga, promote strength, balance and coordination in your elderly parent or grandparent, all which help them get around more easily and prevent falls.

2) Cold & Flu: The elderly are at a very high risk for complications and even death as a result of seasonal influenza. According to the Center for Disease Control, flu activity typically peaks between December and March, but can last all the way into May. Keep these best practices in mind for preventing airborne illness in your loved one:

  • Know the symptoms – While symptoms like fever, chills, cough, aches, runny nose, sore throat and extreme fatigue should definitely be on your radar, be aware that the flu virus can also exacerbate existing underlying medical conditions. The development of pneumonia and other respiratory distress are major indicators of a potential problem with the flu, as are the worsening in chronic illnesses such as congestive heart failure, lung disease, even diabetes. Consult your loved one’s doctor or home health agency immediately if you notice a negative change in your aging parent’s health condition.
  • Watch out for pain – When you have the flu your immune system actually diverts your white blood cells to try and fight it off, leaving your muscles and joints inflamed and making patients feel sore and achy. Simple cold viruses can also lead to pain from the coughing and sneezing associated with having a cold. If the person you care for complains of pain not associated with their existing condition, start tracking their temperature (plus O2 and blood pressure levels if possible), and get an appointment with your health care provider right away.
  • Stock the house – Those elementary precautions you learned as school kids are just as important later in life. Sneeze and cough into a tissue (place plenty of boxes around the house), and always immediately wash hands with anti-bacterial soap and warm water (or keep hand sanitizer pumps around the house). Disinfect surfaces that get touched a lot and might by carrying germs, like door handles, phones, rails, and tv remotes.
  • Avoid sick people – This one is a given, especially if you know someone has a cold or the flu, but know that someone can be incubating the flu virus 1 to 4 days before they even show symptoms. Avoid large crowds, children known to have cold or flu going around their classroom, and be careful to sanitize and avoid contact with sick people when visiting the doctor.

3) Isolation and Loneliness: The winter months with shorter days and colder weather can mean a lot of time spent indoors for your loved one. Not being able to get out, socialize, and exercise as much leads to feelings of social isolation, loneliness and even depression. Combat the winter blues with these tips:

  • Keep in touch with family and friends – Introduce your elderly loved one to the wonders of staying connected with technology. Social media accounts like with Facebook can help them connect online with kids, grandkids and friends, and also keep them informed of news and world events. Free video chat tools like Skype and Facetime also let them call friends and family and see them face-to-face through their computer or mobile phone screen.
  • Indoor exercise – Even the littlest bit of exercise in the home has substantial benefits for older adults. Increased blood flow to the body and brain releases endorphins that boost positive moods and feelings. Everything from yoga in the living room to lifting light weights in a chair can be done in the home; and exercise like this also helps combat memory loss and cognitive decline.
  • Give back to others – Helping others from the comfort of your own home and feeling socially connected to your community is a definite win-win. Easy service ideas for your elderly loved one can include cooking a meal or baking a sweet treat for a friend or neighbor, or knitting hats for the local shelter or hospital. Volunteering and helping others has been shown to lower high blood pressure, as well as fight stress and anxiety.

This post was written by Jessica Hegg, content manager at  Interested in all things related to a healthy lifestyle, Jessica works to share valuable information that aims to improve the quality of life for others.