Winter can be a difficult time of year for seniors. The decrease in temperature requires a little extra vigilance for day-to-day activities. Heating bills rise, more time is spent indoors, and sometimes just remembering to put on all those layers to go outside seems like a hassle. It’s important to remember that as you age, your body does not retain heat the way it did when you were younger. To make up for this increased sensitivity to cold weather, you will need to take extra precautions to ensure your safety and well-being once the temperature drops.
Start By Adding Layers
The first step in keeping warm during colder weather is to layer up with warm clothing. Keep the layers loose so that there is space for warmth to circulate, and don’t forget to wear a hat and gloves. Being correctly attired for the outdoors also means you can get outside and enjoy some fresh air and exercise even during the colder months.
Age Increases Risk for Hypothermia
Often older people don’t realize that they are dangerously cold. The presence of some existing medical conditions also contributes to the body’s ability to handle extreme temperatures. As it becomes more difficult to maintain a body temperature of 98.6 degrees, the chance of getting hypothermia increases. Hypothermia occurs when the body temperature falls below 95 degrees. Hypothermia can cause heart attacks, kidney problems, and liver damage. The CDC reports that about 300 people over the age of 65 die from hypothermia each year.
Early signs to look for if you fear you or a loved one may be suffering from hypothermia are slowness, slurred speech, cold hands or feet, puffy face, and pale skin. Later signs involve trouble walking, moving slowly, jerky movements with arms and legs, slow heartbeat, shallow breathing, and loss of consciousness.
A caregiver is usually the first to notice behavior changes. Many people have stories of finding an older friend or family member in a chilly house wearing light layers, slurring, and acting clumsy. These are obvious signs that hypothermia has settled in. And an alarming reminder that reduced body temperature is often not noticed by those in need.
In the case of hypothermia, the best thing to do is:
- Wrap blankets around the person in need.
- Remove any wet clothing.
- A warm beverage will help as long as it does not contain caffeine or alcohol.
- Avoid using anything warm or hot directly on the skin.
- Do not massage the body in an attempt to warm it up.
- Seek medical attention if the person does not warm up, and symptoms do not decrease.
Staying Warm With Limited Resources
As the last sunny days of autumn fade and the temperature drops, the cost of heating your home increases. The desire to keep the thermostat down and the heating bill low is not uncommon. However, the National Institute on Aging recommends that older people keep their homes heated between 68-70 degrees. It is possible to suffer from hypothermia in temperatures of 65 degrees or less depending on factors like your overall health and wearing appropriate clothing.
At the risk of endangering your health because limited resources make paying for heating costs difficult, seek help from state and local resources designed to keep seniors thriving. There are agencies available to help with everyday assistance and also emergency-based needs.
Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
LIHEAP assists low-income homeowners and renters in helping heat and cool homes by making direct payments to utility companies. Eligibility varies from state to state, but preference is generally given to those 65 years or older.
Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP)
WAP assists with repairs to heating and cooling systems, insulating water pipes, insulating attics, and walls, and sealing doors and windows with weather stripping or caulking.
Many local electric and gas companies offer programs to keep monthly payments the same based on total 12-month usage. Using this service allows for consistent financial budgeting between seasons of higher or reduced usage. Some utility companies also offer discount rates for low-income households.
Caregiver Support For Seniors When the Temperature Drops
Cold winter weather can bring with it health and safety concerns as well. Perhaps the greatest gift during these colder months is to have someone to check in on you daily. Frequent visits from a caregiver or family member ensure you have the resources to stay safe and warm as long as possible when the temperatures drop. They can ensure that the thermostat is programmed to keep warm during the hours you are home and make sure space heaters are properly used. Caretakers can also assist with preventative measures around the house, such as making sure those drafty windows get sealed and scheduling proper maintenance on heating equipment.
Some other ways your caretaker will assist in cold weather, potential power outages, or unsafe travel conditions are:
- Confirm smoke detectors and carbon monoxide monitors are working correctly.
- The increased use of fireplaces and space heaters poses a higher fire risk during cold weather. Keep fireplaces clean and ensure that space heaters are at least three feet away from objects and the cords are not damaged.
- Keep flashlights accessible with working batteries.
- Insulate water pipes to prevent freezing and bursting.
- Put together an emergency kit for winter storms, including flashlight, backup batteries, radio, and warm blankets. Houses should also be stocked with enough non-perishable food and bottled water to last several days.
- Make sure there is a seven-day supply of medications in case of poor travel conditions.
About Generations Home Care
Generations Home Care personalized in-home care and support services help those recovering from illness, injury, or surgery, living with a chronic disease, or dealing with the natural process of aging. We help people live a fuller, healthier, and more independent life.
Our caregivers are trained in the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommended COVID-19 safety precautions. We offer levels of care ranging from companionship to respite for the primary family caregiver, to homemaking services, to assistance with activities of daily living, to Alzheimer’s and dementia care. Generations Home Care takes a holistic approach and emphasizes a consistent, client-centered plan of care.
Our Specialty Services Include:
- Rehab or hospital-to-home programs for safe discharge.
- Short-term post-operative care during recovery periods.
- Non-medical life management services for people with chronic conditions.
- Veteran’s connection to care program.
- Live-in services and couples care.
If you’d like to learn more about how we can help you, contact us today at 602-595-HOME (4663) or by filling out the contact form on our website.