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Quality of Life

Keeping older residents warm during winter

Keeping older residents warm during winter

Outside the leaves are beginning to turn and the weather is growing slightly cooler. Pumpkin spice flavoring is everywhere and Halloween is right around the corner. Before long, the winter weather will begin freezing parts of the country. While October may seem too early to begin discussing cold-weather strategies for residents, we believe it's never too early to start protecting and supporting your residents - no matter the season.

What should you know about older residents and cold weather?
Common wisdom might suggest that because the elderly have lived through more winters, they know more about protecting themselves from the cold. Though this might be the case for some, what about your residents with dementia or others who are too ill to properly care for themselves? The truth is that all of us could use a few reminders every now and then about how to take care of ourselves during every time of the year.

Though we all get cold sometimes, The National Institute on Aging reveals that older adults tend to lose vital body heat more quickly than younger adults. While a sudden snowstorm or chilly power outage may be fun for children wanting to get out of school or adults off of work, a chilly situation like this can become life threatening quickly for older residents and adults because of hypothermia.

"Older adults lose vital body heat more quickly than younger adults."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention define hypothermia as what happens when your body loses heat faster than normal after prolonged exposure to the cold. Essentially, you will be experiencing an abnormally low body temperature. While hypothermia typically occurs at extremely cold temperatures, older adults can suffer from this condition even if they grow chilled because of sweat, rain or cold water. Even a drafty winter room could be risky. While hypothermia is dangerous enough, if an older person's body temperature grows colder than 95 degrees, they may suffer from serious health difficulties such as kidney problems, liver damage, a heart attack or more. 

Cold weather is riskier than just hypothermia
While hypothermia is a serious risk during winter, so is illness or injury. Encourage older adults to get vaccinated against the flu, as they are generally considered more susceptible for this illness. The cold weather months until April are the most frequent times flu outbreaks occur. Meanwhile, while all older adults should take special precautions against the cold, those who take medications, lack essential nutrition, drink alcohol or suffer from Alzheimer's disease, arthritis or have recently had a stroke, should be more careful.

Older adults should set their thermostats above 65 degrees and make sure their furnace is in good shape. Inspecting heating ducts for proper ventilation is also an important step to take. For older adults worried about excessive heating costs, Eldercare Locator writes that many states offer programs for older adults to help cover heating costs. Local Area Agency on Aging organizations are a solid source of information on the subject and eligibility requirements.

"Be aware of the dangers of home fires."

It's also important for older adults to be aware of the dangers of home fires, especially if they use wood or gas heating. Making sure that all smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are installed and working properly is a great way to stay safe this winter. Keeping battery-powered flashlights on hand in the event of a power outage is also important to avoid falls or confusion as well.

Furthermore, the Illinois Department of Aging compiled a comprehensive list of practical tips for seniors and caregivers of older residents in preparation for the cold weather. Some of these suggestions include:

  • Frequently dressing in layers both indoor and outdoors.
  • Staying active, even when the weather is too cold to go out in it.
  • Drinking 10 glasses of water a day and eat a well-balanced diet.
  • Keeping a stockpile of extra medications and nonperishable food supplies in the house in the event of a winter storm.
  • Hiring a professional or enlist the help of a loved one to winterize your home. Some of these home improvements include weather-stripping doors/windows and insulating attics and pipes.  
  • Getting assistance shoveling snow, as the strain from the cold and labor could lead to a  heart attack, or hypothermia. 
  • Protecting against accidental fire, such as buying a fire extinguisher, not overloading extension cords and making sure space heaters are at least three feet away from anything flammable.

Consider these tips or to learn more about providing quality care for your older residents this winter, take one of Mariposa Training's long-term care courses today!

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