Being a caregiver to an elderly loved one can be a real challenge at any time of the year. However, with cold autumn weather setting in and winter around the corner, caregivers face a whole new set of challenges. Here are some ideas for safety and comfort while caregiving in the cold weather.
Caregiving essentials for battening down in cold weather
Sand, salt, and other traction materials are important during cold weather. Even without excursions, caregivers will need to get their charges to doctor and dental appointments. Thus, walkways should be cleared and strewn with traction materials when rain, frost, wet leaves, ice or snow are present. Railings or other similar structures that provide stability should be in good repair and clear as well. All this will make caregiving in the cold weather much safer and easier.
Caregivers should verify that the batteries in any safety devices are fresh, especially for things like outside safety lights. It’s a good idea to switch out the batteries in smoke and carbon monoxide detectors as well as alarm systems.
Inspecting space heaters for malfunctions and spotting dangers like frayed cords is important. Cleaning out the heating coils will reduce any chance of a fire.
The basement, cellar, or utility room where the furnace and hot water heater are needs monitoring. Inspections and tests for good functioning should be scheduled in advance of the cold weather to allow plenty of time for necessary maintenance and/or repairs.
Finally, just before the weather turns freezing, all external hoses of a home should be disconnected from the faucets. This prevents the sillcocks from rupturing. Any pipes that run along exterior walls or in other underheated parts of the house should be wrapped with insulation. This will keep the water inside them from freezing. Caregivers also can search for or have an easily-accessible water shutoff valve installed. If a pipe does freeze, it is in danger of cracking and bursting. A readily available shutoff valve can prevent a flood.
Keeping an even emotional keel in cold weather
Many people are prone to depression or sadness when the days are shorter and colder. While this might seem to be because there is little greenery outside, the real culprit is the lack of sunlight. When sunlight hits the skin, the body produces compounds that, among other things, elevate mood.
If an elderly person is at risk for depression, a simple sun lamp may help. A few minutes a day with this device may be enough to do the trick. Caution is advised, though, as it is possible to get a sunburn from a sunlamp.
If it is safe to do so, caregiving in the cold weather can include outings. Some people like to stay in their homes where they feel warm and cozy. Yet others can start to get restless as the weeks go on and they are never able to go out. A trip to a museum or to another indoor activity can break the tedium of the cold weather. Caregivers should ensure proper maintenance of vehicles, the streets are safe, and the elderly loved one is warmly dressed.
As the body ages, circulation in the extremities tends to decrease. This means that older people are more susceptible to conditions such as frostbite. To this end, caregiving in the cold weather means taking care to keep elderly loved one’s hands and feet warm. Frequent inquiries as to the elderly person’s temperature comfort are warranted when caregiving in cold weather.
Preparing for severe inclement weather
Caregivers do well to make sure an elderly loved one has enough food, water, and other necessities to survive several days if severe weather shuts down the roads. Many elderly people need to take various medications in order to function properly. There should be enough of these medications on hand to “weather” any prolonged storms.
A good first aid kit, stocked with all the necessary items, and up to date as far as expiration dates go, is important. Stocks of candles and batteries are helpful if the power goes out for an extended period of time.
Caregiving in the cold weather brings it challenges. Yet with preparation, caregivers can help ensure that their elderly loved ones make it through safely, healthily, and happily.
Wilkinson, P., Pattenden, S., Armstrong, B., Fletcher, A., Kovats, R. S., Mantangi, P., et al. (September 16, 2004). Vulnerability to winter mortality in elderly people in Britain: population based study. BMJ: 329:647. Available at http://www.bmj.com/content/329/7467/647.short. Last visited November 3, 2016.
Karami, Z., Golmohammadi, R.,Heidaripahlavian, A., Poorolajal, J., Heidarimoghadam, R. (May, 2016). Effect of Daylight on Melatonin and Subjective General Health Factors in Elderly People. Iranian Journal of Public Health, 45(5). Available at http://search.proquest.com/openview/60da2cbc8dbe02e49e8d85e99fcd336f/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=105761. Last visited November 3, 2016.