Our New England weather can bring many challenges for older people, especially those that are homebound or have difficulty getting out due to ice and snow. Our most recent late November snow storm, with power outages and icy roads, is a reminder that cold weather can pose serious health and safety threats to the elderly. In addition, weather related isolation can make the winter months lonely. Although the holiday season can add some temporary excitement from visiting friends and family, the winter months can be especially difficult due to long periods of being indoors with little social contact. Winter can also affect nutrition in the elderly if weather prevents them from food shopping or if seasonal depression reduces appetite.
How can you help?
- Make it a point to stop in to visit elderly neighbors during the winter. You may be the only friendly face your neighbor may see all day, or all week. Take a few moments to engage in some casual conversation, ask about their health and wellbeing.
- Check the home temperature. The elderly are at significant risk of being too cold, which can be a sign of dehydration. Make sure the home is warm enough and the thermometer set for at least 68 degrees to prevent hypothermia.
- Make sure your neighbor has enough food, especially if a snowstorm or cold weather is approaching. Dried, canned or pre-prepared foods should be on hand in case of a power outage.
- Ask about picking up their groceries or medications during your next shopping trip.
- Keep an eye out for symptoms of seasonal depression. Inactivity and isolation may result in depression when cold weather means fewer opportunities to socialize. Contact your local Council on Aging or Senior Center for help.
Finally make sure your elderly neighbors have family or friends nearby or an emergency plan for when more assistance is needed. The key to winter safety is for everyone to be prepared.