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5 Winter Hazards and How Seniors Can Avoid Them

Everyone is affected by the bitter cold weather that the winter season brings each year. But, for seniors in particular, this time presents many winter challenges and hazards.

Fortunately, with knowledge and planning, seniors can avoid them.

1. Cold, Ice and Snow

The most obvious perils of winter are from the weather itself:

  1. Driving: Ice and snow can present major dangers on the road. Seniors should avoid driving when road conditions are at their worst, and those who do drive should be prepared for the conditions. Drive slowly. Make sure snow-tires are installed when appropriate, and keep blankets and food in the car should the vehicle be stranded or disabled.
  2. Falls: Slips on ice are a major risk for seniors in winter, so it’s important to wear shoes with appropriate traction.
  3. Frostbite and Hypothermia: Cold temperatures can cause frostbite and hypothermia. According to Centers for Disease Control, more than half of hypothermia deaths are among seniors. Older adults who do venture outside in cold weather should make sure to dress warmly. Among some vulnerable seniors, hypothermia can even occur indoors if the air temperature in the home isn’t warm enough, so seniors should keep their thermostats above 65 degrees, and seek assistance if they lose heating in an emergency.

2. Decreased Daylight, Dementia and Sundowning

Seniors with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia sometimes experience Sundowners Syndrome, which manifests itself as increased agitation, anger, confusion and memory loss during the evening hours. Sundowning is often exacerbated during the low light conditions of winter, because the season’s low light can disrupt our body’s internal day/night clock (known as circadian rhythms).

Quoted in an article about daylight saving time and sundowning, Dr. Lindsay Jones-Born says, “Seasonality can definitely impact symptoms, which is why it’s so important to maintain a regular schedule and do things to lessen the impact of loss of light for these individuals.” Our in-depth article on sundowners syndrome lists a number of steps that family caregivers can use to prevent or minimize sundowning, such as establishing a routing, letting light into the home, and promoting a relaxing environment in the evening (for example, by reducing noise).

3. Flu Season

With winter comes the flu, which seniors are especially susceptible to developing because of weakened immune systems. The flu causes a significant number of fatalities among seniors each year, and it can also lead to secondary infections such as pneumonia.

For our article about senior flu prevention, we got in touch with Dr. W. Paul McKinney, associate dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Louisville. McKinney told us, “They [seniors] should make every reasonable effort to get vaccinated early in flu season,” adding that even seniors who feel robust enough to fend off the flu should be vaccinated: “There is no reason a healthy senior should defer a vaccine,” McKinney says.

4. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or “the Wintertime Blues”

Many people experience a decrease in energy and mood during the winter, which is caused by decreased daytime light in winter. This phenomenon is known as “seasonal affective disorder” or “SAD.” Those who live in northern states (where daytime is shorter) are at highest risk. Open blinds and curtains during winter to let natural lighting in. Light therapy, using full-spectrum lights available at many box stores, can also be used to prevent or alleviate the wintertime blues. Seniors experiencing depression should talk to their doctors.

5. Social Isolation

The very hazards that we outlined above can lead to seniors becoming socially isolated. If your older loved one has been spending a lot of time alone at home due to inclement weather, try to spend extra time there. You can also arrange transportation to the local senior center, your loved one’s place of worship, and to other places where opportunities to socialize are available.

 

Posted On 10 Jan 2017 in a Place for Mom

Seniors, are you ready for an emergency?

Preparing makes sense for older Americans.

It’s important to have a plan of action.  As people age, their needs change and how they can respond changes as well.  While we think that a disaster will never happen to us; these items pertain to any season and situation of inclement weather such as a snow storm, hurricane, tornado, or a “simple” power outage.  Being prepared can assist in so many ways and create a much calmer approach to an unexpected situation in your home.  We strongly suggest you have an emergency plan in place.

Here’s what you need to do:

Identify the risks in the area where you live:

Is your region prone to hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, blizzards, floods, heat waves, drought or other natural disasters? Is your area a likely target of a terrorist attack? You’ll need different plans for different situations.  The reality of a disaster situation is that you will likely not have access to everyday conveniences.  To plan in advance, thing through the details of your everyday life.

Make a plan for what you will do in an emergency:

  • Have a call tree – Who will check on you?  A neighbor? Family member?  Someone from out of town?  Keep a list of your support network as well as your medical providers in your emergency kit.  Make sure they know what your medical needs are and if there are any physical limitations.
  • Will you shelter in place or relocate?
  • Do you have pets to consider?

Have a record of important information and documents:

  • Have copies in your emergency kit such as family records, medical records, wills, deeds, social security number, bank and credit card account information and tax records.  Place them in a waterproof container.
  • If there is any information related to operating equipment or lifesaving devices that you rely on, include those in your emergency kit as well.
  • If you have a communication disability, make sure your emergency information list notes the best way to communicate with you.
emergency disaster plan kit

Emergency disaster kit contents

Prepare an Emergency Kit:

 

Disasters can happen at any moment.  By planning ahead you can avoid serious consequences that can be life-threatening.  Check your kit every six months or as your needs change.  Replace expired foods, batteries, water, etc.

Have a supply kit packed and ready in one place in an easy to carry container such as a backpack, duffel bag or rolling suitcase.  Be sure your bag has an ID tag; and you have identification for yourself.

 

At a minimum, you should have the basic supplies listed below:

  • Water: one gallon per person, per day (3-day supply for evacuation, 2-week supply for home)
  • Food: non-perishable, easy-to-prepare items (3-day supply for evacuation, 2-week supply for home)
  • Flashlight
  • Battery-powered or hand-crank radio (NOAA Weather Radio, if possible)
  • Extra batteries
  • First aid kit
  • Medications (7-day supply) and medical items
  • Multi-purpose tool (several tools that fold up into a pocket-sized unit)
  • Sanitation and personal hygiene items (toilet paper, plastic garbage bags, hand sanitizer, moist wipes)
  • Copies of personal documents (medication list and pertinent medical information, proof of address, deed/lease to home, passports, birth certificates, insurance policies)
  • Cell phone with chargers
  • Family and emergency contact information
  • Extra cash
  • Emergency blanket
  • Map(s) of the area
  • Extra set of keys (car, house, etc.)

Consider the needs of all family members and add supplies to your kit. Suggested items to help meet additional needs are:

  • Medical supplies (hearing aids with extra batteries, glasses, contact lenses, syringes, etc)
    • Label any equipment, such as wheelchairs, canes or walkers, that you would need with your name, address and phone number.
  • Pet supplies (collar, leash, ID, food, carrier, bowl)
  • Two-way radios
  • Extra set of car keys and house keys
  • Manual can opener

Additional supplies to keep at home or in your survival kit based on the types of disasters common to your area:

  • Whistle
  • N95 or surgical masks
  • Matches
  • Rain gear
  • Towels
  • Work gloves
  • Tools/supplies for securing your home
  • Extra clothing, hat and sturdy shoes
  • Plastic sheeting
  • Duct tape
  • Scissors
  • Pack of cards to provide entertainment and pass the time

Cold climate supplies:

  • Jacket or coat
  • Long pants and long-sleeve shirt
  • Sturdy shoes
  • Hat, mittens and scarf
  • Sleeping bag or warm blanket

Supplies to keep in your vehicle:

  • Flashlight with extra batteries and extra bulbs
  • Sheltering
  • Maps
  • First aid kit and manual
  • Tire repair kit
  • Jumper cables
  • Small auto tool kit – tools like screwdrivers, pliers and a few wrenches, pocket-knife
  • Flares or reflective triangles
  • Bottled water (switch out frequently, particularly in warm weather
  • Non-perishable foods such as granola bars, energy bars, unsalted nuts
  • Sanitation and personal hygiene items (toilet paper, plastic garbage bags, hand sanitizer, moist wipes)
  • Winter: Blanket, hat, mittens, shovel, sand, tire chains, windshield scraper, florescent distress flag
  • Summer: Sunscreen lotion SPF 15 or higher, personal shade item – hat, umbrella, etc., windshield sunshade

Establish escape routes and meeting places:

  • Plan the best and quickest escape routes out of your home and evacuation routes out of your neighborhood (consider handicapped family members best accessible routes)
  • Decide on a meeting place outside your neighborhood in case you cannot return home
  • Know the safe places within your home in case you need to shelter during extreme weather events

Preparation makes a difference

Take responsibility by planning now.  When your upset or confused, already having your disaster plan in place will allow you to do what needs to be done to take care of yourself.  It’s much easier to remain calm when you know what to do.