For seniors, feeling chilly isn't just unpleasant — it can be dangerous. Seniors are more vulnerable to both heat and cold than younger adults are. During the winter, this puts them at increased risk for getting hypothermia, a serious condition that can be fatal. And seniors don't have to be exposed to below-freezing temperatures to develop hypothermia. A 60-degree environment can cause a senior's body temperature to drop dangerously low.
Home care services can play a big role in keeping seniors safe and preventing hypothermia during the coldest days of winter. If you are a home caregiver, or if you want to help keep a loved one safe during this cold weather, keep reading for some ideas about how to help seniors stay warm at home.
1. Keep the house adequately heated.
The most important factor in keeping seniors safe from hypothermia is the indoor temperature of their house. Some seniors might want to save money on their heating bill by keeping the thermostat turned down, but this is a bad idea. Hypothermia can set in at surprisingly high temperatures, and saving a little money isn't worth the risk. To be safe, seniors should keep the thermostat set to at least 68 degrees. 70 degrees is even better.
2. Block drafts from coming into the house.
Drafts can make even a well-heated house feel chilly. To conserve heat, look for any leaks around the house and find ways to block them. Common heat leaks include gaps under doors, cracks around windows, and mail slots. You can prevent drafts from coming in under doors by installing a door sweep, getting a draft blocker, or even placing a rolled-up towel against the door. If you suspect the windows are leaking heat, get some insulated drapes and keep them closed on very cold days.
3. Help seniors dress in warm layers.
Wearing layers of clothing can make all the difference between shivering with cold and feeling perfectly snug. Encourage seniors to wear several layers of clothes every day. For instance, have them wear thermal underwear made of silk or wool under their regular clothing, and encourage them to bundle up in a thick sweatshirt or sweater. If they get too warm, they can always take a layer off. Wearing a comfortable hat can also be a good idea for seniors who are especially prone to feeling chilly.
4. Use the warmest rooms in the house.
Most houses have "warm rooms" and "cold rooms," so take advantage of the warm areas during the winter. If a senior's favorite room in the house is always cold once the outside temperature drops, help them get set up temporarily in a warmer area. If some of the colder areas of the house don't get used much, you may even want to close them off during the winter.
5. Make sure that seniors eat enough nutritious food.
When seniors aren't getting enough calories and nutrients, it becomes harder for them to regulate their body temperature. And many seniors don't eat as well as they could, either because cooking is too challenging or because they don't have much of an appetite. You can help seniors avoid these problems by cooking healthy foods for them and encouraging them to eat enough. Comfort food is often a big hit in the winter — try making some healthy stews and casseroles. Warm drinks like tea can also help seniors warm up on cold days.
6. Encourage seniors to stay active throughout the day.
Moving around doesn't just help seniors stay fit — it can keep them warm, too. Sitting down all day can cause seniors' body temperature to drop, so encourage the senior you care for to stand up and move around frequently, if they are able to. On milder days, you might be able to help them bundle up and go for a short neighborhood walk (make sure they wear non-slip shoes). If it's too cold to go outside, encourage them to do some stretches, play with a pet, or help you in the kitchen.
A home caregiver can also help seniors stay active, even when mobility is an issue. Range of motion exercises and offering support during walks and gentle exercise are all ways that home caregivers can help. Even a little bit of physical exercise will go a long way!
7. Have the heating system checked every year.
Heating systems require regular maintenance. Help the senior you care for arrange to have their heating system inspected every year, preferably before the weather gets cold. With regular upkeep, the heating system will work more efficiently, and it will be less likely to break in the middle of winter.
8. Be able to recognize the symptoms of hypothermia.
No matter how many precautions you take, it's important to stay alert for the signs of hypothermia in seniors. Many seniors can't tell when they are getting hypothermia because the symptoms start slowly, so as a home caregiver, you may be their first and only line of defense against the condition. Some of the symptoms you should be looking out for include:
Confusion or disorientation
Indistinct or slurred speech
Shallow or slow breathing
A slow or weak pulse
Loss of consciousness
If the senior you care for has any of these symptoms, don't wait — get them immediate medical attention.
Home Care Services in California
Are you a senior or a family caregiver who needs the support of home care services in California? All of the caregivers at Alegre Home Care are trained in a variety of key caregiving areas and are matched with clients to ensure the best fit possible.
Cold temperatures are a real health risk for seniors, and many seniors struggle to stay warm during the winter without some extra help. During the cold months, it's especially important for family members and caregivers to understand the danger of hypothermia and know how to help seniors stay healthy. Home care services can play a big role in winter safety for seniors, from keeping the house warm and cozy to helping seniors dress and eat well.
Get in touch today about our home care services!