The winter months brings many wonderful things like crisp walks and cozy sweaters, reading by the fireplace and festive celebrations but it can also be an anxious time for seniors. Snow covered roads and icy sidewalks can be particularly hazardous. Too, the cold weather and heavy snowfall can increase the potential for isolation when seniors choose to stay indoors, or they may be at risk of exposure if outside for too long. To help keep seniors safe and happy during the winter season, there’s plenty of things communities can do to ensure residents are equipped to handle whatever the season brings.
Icy and snow-covered sidewalks are a considerable safety risk for seniors. Making sure your community’s walkways are always clear of ice and snow can help prevent falls that can result in serious injury. Clearing snow from walkways uncovers icy patches that should be removed and/or sprinkled with sand and de-icing salts.
A study from McGill University shows that seniors are twenty percent more likely to fall outside and that the rate of hip fractures increases by 12% in the winter months. If you’re worried that an active senior you know is at risk of falling in the winter, encourage them to use Ice Cleats. These nifty grippers can be attached to the bottom of most shoes to provide better traction and greater steadiness.
During snowstorms and super cold days, it may be difficult for seniors to get outside, and walking and driving anywhere may be unsafe. Consider keeping a supply of essential items on hand at your community’s tuck shop. Things like toilette paper, incontinent products, non-perishable food items, bottled water, and essential toiletries can come in handy when nature surprises your residents with a snowstorm!
Keep an eye out for appropriate clothing for the climate. Sometimes judgement can be affected as seniors age or dementia may alter a senior’s ability to choose the right jacket or shoes for the weather. At the beginning of the season, see if your residents have all the necessary winter gear, including a warm coat, a hat, mittens, and a scarf, and a pair of boots designed to provide traction on snow and ice.
The winter weather can be particularly difficult for those whose extremities often feel cold due to poor circulation. For seniors with cold hands and feet, a thicker pair of mittens or gloves and some thermal socks can provide a bit of extra warmth.
When residents go outside for walks or outings, ensure they have appropriate ID on hand. Sometimes seniors can become confused or may lose their orientation when a snowstorm hits. ID along with the address of their community can be shared with a bus driver, passerby, or authorities to help the resident return home safely.
Cold & Flu Season
Unfortunately winter often brings the cold and flu season with it. Doing things like encouraging your residents to get the flu shot, washing and sanitizing their hands, remaining in their suite if their feeling under the weather and wearing a mask if they must leave, are all helpful in preventing the flu and its spread. Also, don’t underestimate the importance of encouraging adequate rest, eating well and dressing properly for the weather.
Mental and Physical Wellness
During the winter months, it’s not only important to take precautions to prevent physical illness, but to also take measures to ward off mental illness and encourage healthy habits for your residents.
Social engagement with family and friends is good all around. Encouraging families to visit or supporting outings with families can help ward off boredom and mental fatigue. Supporting indoor and outdoor community activities throughout the winter months can prevent depression and anxiety. Mental activities are a great source of cognitive exercise and physical activity helps to maintain stamina and mobility.
You can enhance your community’s indoor mental activities with knitting, crochet, or cross-stitching groups. Encourage seniors who like to read to join a book club or start a more informal book discussion group with friends. For those who are passionate about chess and bridge, consider organizing a tournament with prizes. Bring in guest entertainers or educators to teach classes on topics of interest.
And don’t forget about physical activities that can be done indoors as well as outdoors. On warmer days, seniors can still participate in walking groups or organize a walking group indoors too! If you have a pool, offer water aerobics, and tai-chi and yoga are great for keeping seniors limber and alleviating anxiety.
When days get shorter, we can all feel a little grumpy and fatigued because natural light is essential to wellness. Some seniors are at risk for Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD, which can lead to depression and feelings of isolation and loneliness. Seniors who already experience depression may also be at greater risk for worsening depression due to lack of natural light. One of the simplest ways to combat SAD is to encourage your residents to get outside for brief periods when it’s safe to do so. If that’s not possible, consider phototherapy from a light box. These specialty lamps can be used under the supervision of a physician. If your concerned about your residents and SAD, speak with your attending physician for guidance on what to do.
Eat Balanced Meals.
Eating well is important for people of all ages at all times of year. Providing access to a wide array of palatable healthy food options encourages healthier diets in seniors during the winter months. Soups, stews, and hot dishes are usually preferred over cold options. Breakfast, lunch and dinner also provide the opportunity for residents to get out of their suites and look forward to enjoying a nicely prepared meal with friends. For residents who are more independent and like preparing their own meals, it’s a good idea to ask them if they need any assistance with trips to the grocery store in the winter. This might be something their family can help with or a service your community can offer.
Seniors don’t have to dread winter. We can all work together to ensure precautions are taken to support safety and wellness during the cold and snowy months. Check-in with your residents to make sure they are adequately prepared for a weather event, stocked with warm clothing, and taking care of their health, and perhaps even encourage them to partake in some new indoor activities. By supporting winter wellness, seniors are more likely to enjoy themselves and maintain their wellbeing throughout the season.