The winter months pose a variety of dangers to the elderly population due in large part to the aging that causes people to become more vulnerable to the effects of the cold. With the coldest of winter still yet to come, we’ve compiled a list of dangers to look out for and ways to combat them in order to help you or your loved one avoid the negative effects of winter.
Ideally, an elderly person shouldn’t spend a prolonged period of time in the cold. If they do, they become prone to hypothermia. When it comes to older adults, this can lead a host of other health issues. According to The National Institute of Aging, “a body temperature of 95°F or lower can cause many health problems, such as a heart attack, kidney problems, liver damage, or worse.”
Be sure to check in regularly on your loved one so you can be sure they aren’t exhibiting any symptoms of hypothermia. This could include confusion, sleepiness, slurred speech, trouble walking, and shallow breathing. Additionally, it’s important to remember that preexisting medical conditions and certain medications can make the elderly more susceptible to the cold.
Winter weather creates dangerous outdoor conditions due to snow and ice. This means people are more likely to fall, especially seniors who aren’t steady on their feet. According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), falls are the number one cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries in Americans aged 65 and older.
Depending on how someone falls, they can experience anything from a simple bruise to a brain injury. While a young person may be able to quickly recover from a fall, an elderly person will likely have more trouble bouncing back due to the frail nature of their body. Because of this, it’s important to take your loved one to the doctor after they fall even if they don’t exhibit any immediate injuries.
Elderly people report having stiff, painful joints during the winter months. Cold weather can make joint pain seem worse and cause arthritis symptoms to flare up. In an Arthritis & Osteoporosis Foundation article, it states “67.9 percent of the people surveyed responded that they were sure changes in the weather had an effect on their pain. Most of the patients reported that they can feel a change in their pain before rain or cold weather occur.”
In addition, many people exercise less during the winter due to weather conditions which can also contribute to joint stiffness and discomfort.
Seasonal Affective Disorder
The Mayo Clinic defines Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) as “a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons — SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year.” Depression is common among the elderly due to a number of reasons such as a chronic illness or the loss of social networks and for this reason, seniors are more susceptible to SAD or seasonal depression. SAD can exacerbate feelings of depression.
Without sunlight, people can experience a decrease in serotonin, melatonin, and vitamin D levels. Each of these affects mood and can lead to low energy, problems sleeping, changes in appetite, difficulty concentrating, and feelings of hopelessness.
Winter, also known as flu season, can be particularly dangerous for elderly people with weak immune systems. If you aren’t careful, the common flu can quickly turn into pneumonia. According to aging.com, pneumonia is the fourth leading killer among seniors. It’s a bacterial upper respiratory illness that is characterized by fever, chest pains, and a cough. Seniors with diabetes, kidney or heart problems, asthma, lung disease, liver problems, or obesity issues have a higher risk of experiencing complications with the flu.
The flu can cause serious health complications, including even death. Because of this, it’s vital that you check your loved one into a hospital if they’re having trouble fighting the flu or their symptoms worsen.
How To Combat Them
There are very easy steps to take in order to combat the negative effects the winter can have. We’ve listed a few below that can have the most impact with the least effort:
– Maintain a house temperature between 68° and 70°, make sure windows are sealed, and wear layers to stay warm
– Ask for help navigating slippery or unsafe paths and wear shoes with rough-textured soles
– Try light therapy, exercise, stick to a schedule, and take a vitamin D supplement
– Stay current with immunizations, wash hands regularly, and avoid crowds
– Have an emergency contact in case anything happens
Get in touch with us today and find out what Bluebird Homecare can do for your loved one this winter.