Winter weather presents greater hazards for the elderly

Winter weather presents the possibility of a number of hazards to the elderly, especially those who have issues with mobility or are more or less tied to their homes. Some of these risks are emotional in that elderly persons are more cut off from family and friends, while other risks are physical or related to health.

Many of these potential pitfalls of the season can be avoided by preparing for winter and making sure your elderly loved ones are equipped to handle them. Here are some recommendations when the weather gets cold.

There is a significant risk to seniors who are relatively immobile, due to possible exposure to dropping temperatures. It's also easy for a senior to become dehydrated, because there is insufficient moisture in the air, and they aren't drinking enough to stay hydrated. The dwelling place for a senior should be checked for cracks or openings around windows and doors so that draftiness does not occur.

Proper insulation will also help to ensure that the home doesn't get too chilly, especially in those rooms where elderly persons spend most of their time. It's a good idea to set the thermostat at 68 or a little above, to make sure that pipes in the home don't freeze, and that there is sufficient heat in the living areas. Any cracks should be sealed up or caulked, to make sure that cold air from the outside doesn't penetrate indoors and create a localized drop in temperature.

Risk From Slips or Falls

There is a much greater risk of slipping and falling during the winter time, with wet or frozen areas on sidewalks and driveways around the house. Since elderly people are generally more subject to serious injury because their bones are more fragile, falls can present a serious danger. By making sure that your elderly loved one always wears footwear that grips well, some of this danger can be reduced. To further lessen the dangers of slipping and falling, make sure that all walkways used by seniors are free of ice and snow, and have been treated with rock salt to prevent the formation of ice.

Be Alert for Fire Hazards

While we don't often think of them as such, many of the winter season traditions can lead to fire hazards. For instance, Christmas candles can present a significant risk, and dried-up Christmas trees don't need much of a spark before they ignite. Many elderly people who are trying to save on heating bills use space heaters or electric blankets to stay warm, and these can also present a significant hazard for starting a fire. If any of these seasonal items are used by the elderly, it should be when someone else is around to ensure that no hazardous situations develop. Making sure that smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors are in good working order can also go a long way toward preventing fire disaster.

Coping With Emotional Risks

Most people are aware that the holiday season is a time when elderly people often feel particularly depressed, as they recall past years when spouses and other loved ones were still nearby. Depression can lead to some physical problems if elderly persons begin to neglect their health. One of the best ways of counteracting this kind of depression or withdrawal is to keep your elderly loved one active in some way. For instance, getting them out in the community to do some shopping, taking a walk around the neighborhood, and enlisting their help for meal preparation are all great ways to keep elderly persons involved and exercising, so as to stave off the effects of isolation or depression. 

Establish Emergency Plans

There is usually a greater potential for some kind of emergency occurring during winter than at other times of the year, so emergency situations should be anticipated and provided for. A contingency plan should be made for loss of power in the home, there should be a plan for dealing with winter storms, and most importantly, emergency communications should be arranged for and implemented.

Especially in situations where your elderly loved one is alone at home for any length of time, he/she should be equipped with a cell phone, so that help can be obtained during any kind of home disaster. Even a landline telephone would not suit this purpose because a senior could fall somewhere in the home and not be able to reach the telephone.

By thinking about those situations which typically occur during the wintertime and planning for them, a great many emergencies and hazards can be reduced or eliminated altogether, and your elderly loved one can be better prepared to face the winter season.