When winter makes its annual visit the Midwest, it brings cold, ice and lots of snow. While that can be fun for kids and younger adults, it is often a season older adults dread. For seniors living in Ohio, Michigan and Illinois, winter can be downright dangerous.
Older adults are at a greater risk for injury and health issues during the winter months. According to the CDC, winter hazards are responsible for 63% of all weather-related deaths among seniors. Falls on ice, frostbite and hypothermia can be deadly to older adults.
It’s important that caregivers know how to keep their senior loved ones safe.
Limit time outdoors during the Midwest winter. As we age, poor circulation can make our bodies less sensitive to temperature and temperature changes. When your aging parent ventures outdoors, they may not realize how cold it is. A senior may not be able to feel the numbness in fingers or toes that indicate it’s time to move indoors.
Seniors with respiratory disease are at a higher risk of illness in extremely cold weather. Temperatures below freezing can cause serious breathing issues. The COPD Foundation recommends seniors with respiratory problems wear a scarf or face mask over the mouth and breathe through the nose as much as possible.
Make sure your senior loved one dresses warmly. Just as your aging parents had to remind you to zip your coat, and to wear your hat, gloves and boots, you need to remind them to dress properly when they go outdoors. Hats, wool socks and warm gloves slow the loss of body heat.
Take steps to avoid winter injuries. Ice and snow create serious fall risks for seniors. Make sure that their porch, walkways and driveway are salted and free of snow and ice. To avoid back injury and the risk of heart attack don’t allow your senior loved one to shovel their own walk. If you can’t be there to clear their walkways for them, consider asking a neighbor or hiring a shoveling service. The local agency on aging may have financial assistance available to help cover the expense for seniors who are have limited resources.
When out in public places, walk closely with your aging parent and have them hold your arm for stability. Avoid places where walkways have not been shoveled or salted to remove ice.
Remind your senior to drink plenty of water: Caregivers sometimes worry about their senior loved ones becoming dehydrated during the heat of summer. But they may not realize winter can be just as dangerous. Dry, heated indoor air can cause seniors to lose precious body fluid. Be alert to signs of dehydration in your aging parent. If they seem confused or especially irritated, they may not be getting enough water. Other signs include headaches, dizziness, dark urine and dry mouth
Consider a respite stay in an assisted living community. Another option to consider when the winter winds blow, especially if you and the senior you love live a significant distance from one another, is respite care. They can ride out the worst of the Midwest’s winter months safe and secure in a local assisted living community.
Be prepared for extreme Midwest weather. Ohio, Michigan and Illinois winters can be brutal and unpredictable. Blizzards, ice storms and power outages can cause particular problems for seniors living alone.
The CDC recommends that you create an emergency kit with a supply of water, food, medications, battery-operated radio and lighting. You should also have a communication plan in place with neighbors or friends who live near your parent. If treacherous weather prevents you from reaching them, make sure you have people nearby who can check to see that your loved one is safe.
For more information about keeping your senior loved one’s safe this winter, visit the CDC winter preparedness guide.