What may be a winter wonderland to some can quickly become treacherous territory for our elder loved ones. But there’s no need to be a Debbie Downer about it; there are simple steps caregivers can take so that their loved ones can stay safe during this time of year.
There’s good reason you’ll find so many snowbirds migrating to Florida or other regions with warm winter weather. While the snow can be pretty, it can be a chore to deal with. Getting out of the house can be near impossible, leaving seniors homebound for lengths of time. This happened to my parents when they retired to a mountain community in New Mexico.
If your elder loved ones have decided to remain in an area prone to winter weather, Forbes has some tips for caregivers on winterproofing.
- Heating source: Make sure your elder loved ones have a reliable heating source and get it checked out annually to ensure its optimum functioning. If space heaters are used, monitor their usage to prevent fires. All homes should have operational smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
- Stock up on supplies: Make sure your loved ones have a stocked pantry and have plenty of essentials, such as toilet paper. The same applies to any medications. Make sure some of the food is ready to eat, in case there’s a power outage. If a major blizzard keeps your loved ones homebound for a few days, you can rest assured that your loved ones won’t go hungry.
- Preventing falls/exposure to cold: Several steps can be taken to ensure your loved one remains safe while outdoors during the winter. Proper clothing and shoes are essential. Clear walkways of snow and ice; check for slippery spots. (Make sure it’s not the senior doing the shoveling, as the strenuous activity can be dangerous for older people.)
- Winter driving: If your elder loved one still drives, proper car maintenance is essential. Make sure they have an emergency kit in the car.
One of the best tools our elder loved ones can have is a cellphone. Encourage them to carry that phone with them at all times, even if they are just walking down the front path to the mailbox. A slip on an icy spot could turn a routine task into a medical situation. Having a phone handy could mean the difference between life and death.
Dementia caregivers should be extra vigilant about preventing their loved ones from wandering away. My father had several wandering episodes and one occurred around the time police found an older gentleman with dementia who had froze to death after wandering and getting lost outdoors during the winter months. I’m grateful that law enforcement was always able to track down my father before he was harmed, but I realize not all families are so fortunate.
Winter weather can also be very peaceful and tranquil. There’s nothing like being cozy indoors with a cup of hot cocoa while the snow falls outside. Talk to your loved ones about their winter memories on your next visit.