Winter is a magical time: cuddling up indoors with hot cocoa and marshmallows, while the snow gently falls outside. But it can also be a dangerous time, especially for the seniors in your life. Winter presents challenges for all of us, but seniors living alone are particularly vulnerable.
Help them stay safe this winter by talking to them about these dangers and how to avoid them:
Icy roads and walkways
Anyone can slip and fall on icy sidewalks, but the repercussions are more dangerous — and often deadly —for older people. As we age, recovery from broken bones or head trauma gets harder, and the likelihood of complications grows dramatically. A fractured hip, for example, is a major injury for a senior, and often leads to deteriorating health and increasing illness.
Seniors should avoid going out alone in icy conditions. If they must venture outdoors, they should wear sturdy shoes with non-skid soles to provide good traction. Make sure the area around their home is salted. If they use a cane, check it for winter-readiness before winter sets in.
Seniors are more susceptible than younger people to hypothermia due to a variety of factors. Certain illnesses, reduced body fat, and slower circulation all contribute to the body’s decreased ability to stay warm. Indoors, keep the thermostat set no lower than 68˚F, with the ideal temperature falling around 70˚F. If their home is drafty or chilly, encourage them to wear an extra sweater and thick socks.
Outdoors, make sure they bundle up warmly in layers—a heavy coat; warm socks and gloves; a hat or earmuffs to keep their ears warm; a scarf around the mouth to protect their lungs; and non-skid boots if conditions are snowy or slushy.
Fire Hazards and Burns
If they use any sort of electrical heater or blanket, read the instructions carefully with them, and make sure they understand it. Some of these products can overheat and cause a fire when kept on for too long. Newer electric blankets come with built-in sensors to prevent overheating and fires, but older models—generally manufactured before 2001—do not have these safety mechanisms.
Keep clothing and fabrics away from any heating elements or open flames, and use caution around any heating source.
While they should always be prepared for blackouts, your elderly loved ones need to be extra-prepared during the winter. Make sure there is a stash of warm blankets and sweaters they can easily reach to keep themselves warm if they lose power during a winter storm. Flashlights should also be easily accessible, and there should be enough non-perishable food to sustain them until the power comes back on.
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
There’s nothing cozier than turning up the heat on a freezing winter evening. But if any type of gas heating system is used, there must be a carbon monoxide detector installed in the home. Test the carbon monoxide detector periodically to ensure it’s active. A model that plugs into an outlet with a battery backup is a good idea for seniors who may forget to check the batteries.
If a carbon monoxide alarm goes off, call the fire department and leave the house immediately.
During the winter months, seniors are less likely to leave home. The resulting social isolation can cause loneliness and depression in many elderly people. Be there for your loved one, by visiting often and calling them on the phone daily. Arranging a rotation of friends and relatives to visit during the cold winter months will alleviate much of the loneliness.
If you feel your loved one will not be safe alone this winter, it may be time to consider alternative options, such as a home-health aide or an assisted living facility.