Home for the Holidays: Aging in Place Safely in Winter

When it comes to aging in place, it is helpful to take a seasonal approach to managing risks. Whether you are an aging adult or a loved one of aging parents, reevaluating the living arrangements every 3 months can really keep you in tune with changing needs and preparations for the coming season. It is important to continually ask, “Is my home meeting my current needs and supporting my safety? Could some small changes reduce the risk of a fall or injury? Do my spouse and I have a high quality of life here?” Winter can be one of the most important seasons to prepare for when aging in place. If you’re home for the holidays this year, here are a few tips to help you and your family be ready and stay safe.

Staying Warm

Keeping the house warm is an important aspect of winter living for all of us. As we age, the body tends to have more difficulty retaining heat and staying warm becomes more difficult. Dressing in layers will help the body acclimate, especially during transitions between indoor and outdoor environments. Pay close attention to those with dementia, as one of the symptoms of the disease is an inability to dress appropriately for weather conditions. If your loved one exhibits difficult behaviors such as wandering, take extra precautions in the winter. If they were to wander outside, a fall or hypothermia can put them at serious risk. 

Preventing a Fire

As we try to keep warm, it is important to maintain safety as well. If heaters are used, make sure they are a good distance from the body or blankets as they can unintentionally burn items. If your loved one uses an electric blanket, be sure that it is kept on a low setting and has an automatic shutoff to prevent it from being left on too long. In celebration of the winter season, we tend to fill our house with light through candles or fires in the fireplace. Be sure that all lights are blown out, unplugged, and extinguished before leaving the house or going to bed. Changing the batteries in the smoke detectors and making sure your house has carbon monoxide detectors is another good preparation.  If your loved one uses oxygen within the house take extra precaution to keep open flames or cigarettes away from the tank and oxygen tubes.  

Falls

One of the biggest risks within the home for aging adults are falls. However, in winter that simple trip to the grocery store, pharmacy, or a friend’s house can be all the more treacherous. Make sure your aging loved one has the tools and ability to manage their outdoor stairs and walkways with salt and a shovel. If this task may put them at greater risk, create a plan together to have a family member or volunteer help maintain their outdoor spaces in the winter. Make sure railings are sturdy and free from décor. As the days are shorter and we are spending more time in the dark, make sure that indoor and outdoor stairwells are well lit

Driving

If you are concerned about a loved one driving, winter can be a really important time to assess the risks, have the difficult conversation, and create a backup plan for winter driving. Delayed response times and driving on slick roads can put many people in danger. As part of your plan, consider having a backup system for transportation when the roads are too bad and define what that means. Help your loved one stock their kitchen with extra food and supplies so they can wait out the bad weather before having to go to the store. You may consider having your doctor write an extra prescription to minimize the amount of pharmacy trips or delegate tasks that include driving to a family member. When it comes to winter transportation issues, also watch for isolation and make sure that your family member has opportunities to keep a regular schedule, get out of the house, maintain mobility, and have social engagement with friends and family.

Emergency Plan

For aging adults, there are many different situations that can present an emergency in winter. It is important to have a plan in place to address the “what if's”. Consolidate emergency contact information into one document or notebook and include utility companies. If power were to go out, or the furnace to break, it is crucial to get help right away. In the event of a winter storm, or natural disaster, have a plan for gathering all family members. Talk to neighbors to help support one another. Keep a supply of water and nonperishable food as well as a full emergency kit to make sure your loved ones would have their basic needs met for 3-4 days if they were unable to leave their house. 

Help in the Home

As we age, the activities of daily living and managing a home can become overwhelming, even more so during the holidays. Part of any good plan to age in place is a strategy for dealing with both a short-term increase in needs or long-term care. At Sound Options, we are able to offer customized help that comes to you. Whether you are recovering from an injury or your spouse has dementia, we are able to provide the care and comfort your family needs. Our goal is to make the holidays a safe and enjoyable time for everyone. Give us a call today and we can turn your concerns into customized solutions for a quality life. 800.628.7649.     

Published on December 1, 2016.