The cold and snowy winter months can be challenging for many people. A trip outside, even for a brief errand, can be both difficult and dangerous. The winter can be especially treacherous for the elderly, who are at risk for broken bones from falls on ice, breathing problems caused by cold air, hypothermia and frost bite. Many hold less body heat due to a slower metabolism and reduced physical activity, so they feel the cold more severely. And, as people age, the ability to feel changes in temperature decreases, making it important for elders to monitor the house temperature and to dress in layers.
For the elderly, the winter months can also be long and lonely. With the holidays over and family members back to work and family responsibilities, January and February can be especially lonely months for the elderly who find themselves homebound with fewer social activities and outside contact.
So what can you do to help an elderly family member, friend or neighbor reduce the isolation and loneliness of winter?
- Make it a New Year’s resolution to visit once a week for a meal, cup of coffee or just to socialize for an hour or two.
- Encourage other family members to visit, call or e-mail on a regular basis.
- Contact your local senior center or community center to check for opportunities for group meals, social programs and outings, or even friendly visitor programs.
- Buy, fill and hang a bird feeder in a backyard or attach it directly on a window. Birding activity can be very entertaining and a great topic for conversation.
- Check the local library for a mobile book loaning program, or offer to pick up and drop off books and magazines.
- Send a letter. An old-fashioned letter in today’s age of electronic communication can mean a lot to the elderly and bring a sense of anticipation while awaiting a mail delivery. Enclose a couple of pictures for added enjoyment.
- Plan an occasional outing for lunch, a trip to the barber or hairdresser, or for some shopping.
Finally watch for signs of depression. The elderly are at increased risk for depression due to life changes, medication and illness.
Below are some links to senior centers and other agencies that you might use as a resource.
Wendy Drastal, RN
Wendy Drastal, RN, is Vice President, HomeCare, Inc., the leader in home care in the Merrimack Valley, Northeastern Massachusetts and Southern New Hampshire. Click here to learn more.