You don’t have to be a meteorologist to know that winter can be particularly challenging for older adults in the upper Midwest. So, I am not going to talk about slipping on ice or hypothermia; I think most of us and our older loved ones get those. I am going to talk about four of the more subtle and insidious hazards of a protracted cold spell.
- Winter Depression: Isolation is bad for the soul…or more medically speaking, the mind. Being trapped inside their house or apartment, older individuals may be protecting themselves form frostbite, but they also may be setting themselves up for depression. If you have an older loved one who lives alone…or even if it is a couple…make a wellness check to bring a bit of cheer to them. Social engagement is one of the best remedies for winter blues.
- Power Outages: When the power goes out in the summer, it may mean we have to eat the ice cream before it melts. But in the winter a power outage can mean frostbite can be happening under their own roofs, not just outside. Make sure your older loved one has flashlights and back-up batteries, warm blankets and a battery-powered radio. The CDC has a longer checklist.
- Dietary Variety: Help your older loved one not just have enough food, but have enough variety to get ample quantities of vitamin D. That includes milk and cheeses, seafood, leafy vegetables and fresh fruits. You do not have to be a culinary wizard; it is the variety and freshness that count.
- Carbon Monoxide: For homes with gas fireplaces or furnaces that vent from the side of the house. Be aware of leaks in the apparatus inside the house as well as blocked exhaust ports that may become blocked by snow. Check on the carbon monoxide detectors in the hour to see that they are working and have back-up batteries for those as well.
And between trips to visit your older loved ones, please give them a call as well. All of this will help take the chill as well as some of the bleak off their winter.
Charlotte Bishop is an Aging Life Care Advisor, Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago. She also is the co-author of How Do I Know You? A Caregiver’s Lifesaver for Dealing with Dementia.