Although winter brings with it a special type of beauty—swirling white snow, twinkling holiday lights, and enchanting icicles, among other things—often there is a dangerous undercurrent in the wintry magic. For seniors, especially, winter can be a great challenge to maintaining their health: not only do physical obstacles like ice present dangerous fall potentials, but elements like the chilly air can wreak its own havoc on aging bodies.
Winter Health & Safety Tips for Seniors
To help you protect your loved ones from the many dangers winter presents, we’ve put together a list of best practices to help the seniors you care about stay healthy this winter:
1. Help seniors stay active
An active lifestyle is perhaps the best way to stay healthy year-round, especially in the winter! While cold weather can make staying active more difficult, it is very important to a senior’s overall health to practice strength (especially balance) and cardiovascular movements.
There are many online classes seniors can take right in the comfort of their homes, using body weight or simple equipment they already own. Even frequently walking up and down stairs is great for strength and cardio health—just be sure your loved one uses the handrail to protect against falls!
Additionally, staying active has the added bonus of keeping your loved one’s body temperature up to help them:
- stay warm
- produces endorphins, which will help ward off seasonal depression
- increases thirst, which will entice your loved one to drink more fluids
- It’s the best place to start!
2. Keep them warm
Seniors experience cold more easily than younger people do because their skin and layers of fat directly underneath thin over time, and their metabolic rates slow down. Thus, they lose body heat more quickly, and most need to be more proactive to keep their body temperatures up. It is not uncommon for seniors to get hypothermia in settings that don’t even bother younger adults. However, there are many steps you can take to protect your loved ones and keep them warm:
- Ensure your loved one has many layers at his or her disposal, and do your best to make sure they’re starting with a non-cotton thermal base-layer that wicks away moisture and retains heat.
- Additionally, make sure your loved one always has a hat nearby, as 40-50% of body heat is lost through the head.
- If they’re going outside, be sure they have insulated boots, warm (and ideally waterproof) gloves, and a scarf with them.
Keep their homes warm:
Be sure they have well-insulated windows to protect them from drafts. Additionally, making sure they have easy access to heated blankets or mattress pads, space heaters (with warm air humidifiers to protect against a space heater drying out the air), or heated slippers will also ensure they can quickly warm up when starting to feel cold. As body temperatures drop during sleep, it is important to make sure your loved one’s sleeping environment stays warm—experts recommend seniors’ sleeping rooms rest at about 73 degrees.
3. Ensure they stay hydrated
As adults age, their bodies retain less fluid. Additionally, many medications that are common in senior health routines cause dehydration. However, that doesn’t mean seniors need less water! It’s perhaps even more important for seniors to work hard to stay very hydrated; dehydration can lead to minor irritations that can more easily become life-threatening for seniors—health problems like urinary tract infections, heart disease, kidney failure, blood clots, and more can become serious much more quickly in a dehydrated senior. Well-hydrated seniors, however, are far more likely to ward off infections and heal more quickly.
However, because seniors also become less and less thirsty over time, it can be difficult to help them take in enough fluids each day. Help your loved one stay hydrated by ensuring they always have a water bottle nearby. Reusable tumblers with a straw are more convenient to drink from and easier on their hands if they have arthritis. If they dislike water, consider flavored-water options that have added electrolytes.
Additionally, try to discourage sugary or caffeinated drinks, which are actually frequently dehydrating and block the brain’s ability to register thirst. Coffee and alcohol should also be drunk in moderation only. Finally, help your loved one eat foods with high water content: foods like grapes, watermelon, cucumbers, apples, zucchini, and broth-based soups are all not only healthy and filling, but also hydrating!
4. Protect seniors from seasonal depression
One of the most dangerous side effects of winter is seasonal depression. This can be hard to shake even after the winter is over. The very best way to protect your loved one from seasonal depression is to ensure they have lots to keep them active:
- enjoying time with friends and family tops the list
- frequent excursions
- community events
- time spent with their preferred religious communities
These are all excellent ways to keep up your loved one’s spirits through the winter, too. The most important thing is to ensure they don’t spend lots of time alone, especially if they are naturally extroverts who love to be around people!
It can feel overwhelming to take all of the above steps to keep your loved one healthy in winter. If you are looking for support, give us a call! Here at Morningside, we offer guided tours to showcase the many ways we keep our seniors healthy year round. Give us a call or visit us online to schedule a tour today. We would love to show you around!