Visiting Angels of Joplin Blog

Cold Weather Tips for Seniors

When the weather outside is frightful, seniors are at a higher risk for several health issues. Cold temperatures, slick surfaces, and social isolation can make the winter months challenging for the elderly. However, careful preparation and extra attention can prevent many of these issues and lead to a happier, healthier season for your aging loved ones.

Cold Weather Risks

Among the most obvious risks for seniors during cold weather spells is hypothermia. Hypothermia occurs when a person's body temperature drops to 95 degrees or below. Because our bodies become less adept at regulating internal temperature as we age, seniors are at a higher risk for hypothermia than younger people.

An elderly person suffering from hypothermia might not shiver or be aware of feeling cold, which makes hypothermia harder to identify. There are other signs you can watch for, though. If you notice bluish fingertips and lips, reduced alertness, slurred speech, or mild confusion, your senior may have hypothermia and you should seek medical help immediately.

The cardiac health of many seniors worsens in the winter, too. Most seniors have reduced blood circulation and when the temperatures drop, their hearts have to work harder to pump blood to their extremities. This puts additional stress on the heart, raising blood pressure and increasing risk for a heart attack.

Seniors and small children are the highest risk populations for contracting influenza each year, as well. While it's never a guarantee, the annual flu shot can shorten the duration of the flu should your senior catch it. A flu strain can turn into pneumonia quickly for older adults, so anything you can do to prevent or shorten the flu is helpful. Doctors recommend a yearly flu vaccine for healthy adults over age 65.

In southwest Missouri, we tend to have more ice than snow during the winter, but both conditions can be hazardous. Slippery roads and sidewalks can lead to major injuries for seniors. It’s also easy to track snow and ice indoors, which melt and leave slippery spots on the floor.  

Even when there are no physical health concerns or bad weather in the forecast, many seniors report feeling isolated during the colder months and suffer from seasonal depression. This is especially pronounced in Alzheimer's and dementia patients, who experience Sundowning. Sundowning is characterized by increased confusion and agitation later in the day (after the sun goes down).  In general. less exposure to natural light, more time alone, and being forced indoors by weather can all lead to seniors experiencing increased loneliness during this season.

Tips for Preparation

While winter conditions present extra challenges for older adults, there are several things you can do to prepare your loved one for this season. Here are our top seven tips for safety and preparedness:

  • Tip #1: Make sure your senior has plenty of warm clothes, scarves, hats, heavy socks, and a winter coat that fits. A ski mask can help prevent lung spasms from cold air when outside.You may also want to purchase a pair of non-skid shoes to help your senior avoid falls on snow or ice.

  • Tip #2: Make sure your senior has plenty of warm blankets and non-perishable items stored at home in case a winter storm strikes. Heavy ice and snow can lead to power outages, so have blankets and food readily available.

  • Tip #3: Help your senior get a flu shot and remind them to take a daily multivitamin to boost their immune system.

  • Tip #4: Check on your senior regularly and monitor the temperature in their home. Some elderly folks turn down their thermostats to save money during the winter, not realizing that they are at a high risk for developing hypothermia. Encourage your senior to keep the temperature in their home no lower than 65 degrees.

  • Tip #5: If your senior drives, have their car serviced before cold weather hits. Be sure there are blankets and bottles of water stored in an easily accessible place should they have trouble on the road and need to wait for help in cold temperatures.

  • Tip #6: Find low-impact ways to exercise regularly. Many seniors report increased pain from arthritis in the winter. A low-impact indoor activity like swimming can ease arthritis pain and provide a social context for seniors to interact with others.

  • Tip #7: Check in with your senior regularly for a chat, even a short one, to help them feel connected during this season. Nothing replaces interaction with another person who cares about them and wants to hear about the details of their day.

At Visiting Angels Joplin, our caregivers are attentive to each senior's health and we can help them navigate the winter months safely. Our caregivers assist with transportation to appointments, provide regular companionship, prepare healthy meals, remind seniors to take vitamins and medications, and monitor their general well-being. These services are valuable any time of year, but especially during the winter months. If we can partner with your family to help your aging loved ones enjoy this season, please contact us today.  

Each Visiting Angels agency is a franchise that is independently owned and operated. The Franchisor, Living Assistance Services Inc., does not control or manage the day to day business operations of any Visiting Angels franchised agency.