Haims: Preparing aging family for the cold weather (column)
As we say goodbye to fall and prepare for winter, take a little time to consider how freezing temperatures, snow, the early onset and darkness of night as well as holiday travel may pose formidable challenges for your aging loved ones.
With temperature drops, older adults frequently run a higher risk of health and injury concerns. If you believe that winter and inclement weather may pose challenges for an aging loved one, then be proactive and take precautions to avoid hazards.
As we age, not only does our physiology change, but many of the mechanisms we rely on to manage and adjust our internal temperature become less effective.
When our body is exposed to the cold, mechanisms within our body decrease blood flow to the skin to reduce heat loss. However, as we age, frequently our body becomes less effective at this. The thinning and loss of the fat layer under our skin similarly impedes our ability to regulate and maintain body temperature as we age.
Unfortunately, many medications used by our elderly exacerbate the ability to regulate body temperature. While cardiovascular and high blood pressure medications help save lives, they often slow the heart rate, which reduces circulation and impedes the body’s ability to generate internal heat. Because of these changes, it is often more difficult for aging adults to maintain internal body temperature in cold conditions.
Here are some tips to assist our aging loved ones this winter:
Make sure their house isn’t losing heat through windows. Keep blinds and curtains closed. If there are gaps around the windows, try using weather stripping or caulk to keep the cold air out.
Make sure they eat enough food to keep up their weight. If they don’t eat well, they might have less fat under their skin — impeding their ability to regulated body temperature.
With poor road conditions that come with winter, running errands and getting around can be difficult. Too often many seniors socialize less and choose to go out less frequently.
If a loved one seems a little down this winter, it’s a good idea to make an extra effort to spend some additional time with him or her. When possible, assisting with orchestrating a routine of regular visitors or assisting with transportation will greatly promote mental well-being and safety.
Help prepare the home for possible power outages by stocking up with blankets, flashlights/batteries, a portable radio and non-perishable foods that can be eaten cold should a power outage occur.
Slippery conditions presented with the occurrence of snow and ice can lead to falls — a leading cause of death amongst the elderly. Make sure that areas outside and around your loved one’s home are shoveled as needed and that de-icing salt is available. Also, make sure that your loved one’s wear shoes with good traction and non-skid soles.
Falls inside the house can be mitigated by taking some simple precautions. Remind your loved ones to remove their shoes once they return indoors. Snow and ice that may be attached to the soles of shoes, once melted, can lead to slippery conditions. Consider area or runner rugs that will keep floors from becoming slippery. Additionally, having a bench or stool near the entrance of the house where shoes can be removed while seated will help in avoid falls.
The idea of traveling can seem especially scary to seniors coping with memory concerns. Diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and dementia, can often trigger frustration and anxiety when daily routines are changed. Fortunately, there are some effective ways you can minimize the stress your elder family member experiences during holiday travel.
Have A Plan: It’s important to always have a game plan before traveling with elderly family members. Consider writing up a schedule to discuss with your loved one. Sharing these plans with your elderly family member will help them feel included and prepared, helping to minimize travel anxiety.
Get Organized: Take the time to organize any medicine needed and store them in a place that is easy to access. Make copies of important documents, such as medical records and prescription doses and schedules. These will help you care for your loved one should an emergency arise. If needed, you can use these documents to formulate an emergency plan of action. You’ll rest easier knowing your elderly family member will receive proper care if any difficulties should arise.
Ask for Help: Ask about special accommodations for elderly family members traveling under your care. Most airlines offer special rows for passengers with disabilities, which makes traveling easier for seniors who use wheelchairs, walkers and other mobility equipment. You’ll also want to ask hotels and restaurants if they have any special accommodations for relatives coping with dietary or other restrictions.
Take Your Time: Never forget to take your time. If travel plans are rushed in any way, your senior family member’s discomfort levels will inevitably rise. Always plan extra time for travel delays and other unforeseen holdups.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. Contact him at 970-328-5526 or visit http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns.