By Betsy Smith, Network Shareholder and Partner Manager at Elder Law of Michigan
It is no joke that Michigan winters can be brutal, and we are just now heading into the coldest part of the year. Between trying to keep warm and stay safe in wintry weather, older adults are faced with several challenges during the winter season.
Older adults can lose body heat easier than when they were younger. Changes in the body that make it harder to regulate body temperature can make them vulnerable to hypothermia. The National Institutes of Health states, “When the temperature gets too cold or the body’s heat production decreases, hypothermia occurs. Hypothermia is defined as having a core body temperature below 95 degrees.” Hypothermia can even occur inside if the temperature is kept below 65 degrees. For older adults, it is recommended that the thermostat be set to at least 68 degrees. Older adults should also dress warmly, wear extra layers of clothing, and keep extra blankets available. When going outside, it’s extremely important to dress warm (make sure to wear a hat, scarf, and warm gloves) and not stay outside for extended periods. This article from the National Institute on Aging gives additional tips on how senior citizens can stay warmer inside and outside.
In addition to keeping warm, seniors are confronted with the challenges of staying safe. Slipping and falling, extreme driving conditions, and power outages are all common cold-weather dangers that the elderly population faces. Falls can be common due to the ice and snow, so make sure to wear shoes or boots with good traction. Put down road salt on sidewalks, steps, and driveways to help make the areas as slip-free as possible. Navigating snowy roads can be difficult for any driver, but it can be especially difficult for someone whose reflexes may not be what they once were. Servicing the car before winter can be helpful, so check the tires, windshield wipers, battery, oil, and other fluids. We all know the force of a severe winter storm; planning for a power outage is the best way to be prepared. Make sure to have easy access to a flashlight and a battery-powered radio. Keep a supply of extra blankets and nonperishable foods.
Eating a nutritious diet is crucial for older adults. Good eating habits boost the immune system and ensure that the body continues to have enough fat under the skin, which provides that extra layer of insulation. Also, because of the amount of time spent inside during the winter, seniors tend to eat less, which can affect the nutrition they are receiving, specifically Vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency can lead to many health concerns including osteoporosis, anxiety, and depression. Eating eggs, fish, dairy or nuts will add plenty of protein. Making soups and stews with lots of vegetables, beans, and lentils is an inexpensive way to increase the fiber and nutrients in your diet. A nutritious diet needs to be a priority in the winter to keep senior citizens healthy.
It’s a good idea to check on elderly loved ones regularly, or if you are out of town, make arrangements for friends or neighbors to check in on them. Make sure to provide a phone number in case of an emergency. Winter can certainly be a daunting time for seniors, but with awareness and a bit of planning senior citizens can stay safe, warm and healthy.
Betsy is the MiCAFE Network Shareholder and Partner Manager at Elder Law of Michigan. She has been a member of the Elder Law of Michigan team since September 2019. As the MiCAFE Network Partner Manager at Elder Law of Michigan, Betsy provides outreach, training, recruitment, and education to MiCAFE Network Partners and stakeholders.