You’ve stocked the fridge, bought plenty of sweaters, and made sure your loved one has their medication laid out. In fact, you’ve done everything possible to help keep them safe this winter. But there may be other cold-weather health issues for older adults you haven’t considered. Read on to find out what they are and how you can help.
Heart attacks and strokes
When we think of causes for heart attacks during chillier months, shoveling snow in colder climates comes to mind. However, while the rate of heart attacks does increase in winter, many aren’t related to this type of exertion. That’s because the cold itself poses a risk. When the temperature drops, our arteries constrict, making heart attacks more likely. To someone who’s already in frail health and has heart trouble, it’s easy to see why winter poses an increased risk.
It’s also harder to regulate body temperature as we age since we lose fat, muscle, and some of our ability to generate heat. Body temperature issues can further constrict the arteries and cause tears or splits in the plaque lining our artery walls. This may result in a blood clot that can trigger a heart attack or stroke – the latter of which also occurs more often in winter. Make sure your loved one has adequate heat this season, and that they know to contact you or a professional in the event their heating system fails.
Vitamin D deficiency
Vitamin D deficiency is another danger older adults face in winter – mostly due to the lack of sunlight during colder months. We usually absorb Vitamin D via the skin, but gray skies prevent sunlight from getting through. Older adults are also less likely to go outdoors during winter months, presenting few opportunities to absorb what sunlight is available. Too little vitamin D can put your loved one at risk for osteoporosis, dementia, heart disease, and Parkinson’s. Talk to their physician about a vitamin D supplement or dietary changes to get them the necessary nutrients.
Diabetic nerve damage in the foot, also called “neuropathy,” can lead to a loss of sensation. Older adults with neuropathy (and their caregivers) must be wary around space heaters and fireplaces because diabetics may not feel when their feet are overheating leaving them at risk for burns. On the other hand, they may also be unaware if their feet are too cold, which can lead to other health complications. Make sure your loved one’s feet stay toasty and physically check to see if they are cold to the touch.
When it comes to watching for winter health issues for older adults, one risk factor that many caregivers don’t consider is depression. Your loved one may be a victim of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), or simply lonely due to isolation. The odds of older adults being isolated increases in winter for a number of reasons, but chief among these is weather conditions. Storms, slick roads, and severe winds can keep older adults trapped at home and prevent loved ones from visiting. In these circumstances, try calling or Skyping as often as you can, or encourage your loved one to use a service like the Friendship Line.
Protect your loved one from winter health issues for older adults
In winter, some risks and health issues for older adults are evident, such as broken heating system or exposure to harsh outdoor conditions. To best protect your aging loved one, you must be familiar with less obvious hazards that are no less dangerous. Then you’ll know you’re doing everything you can to ensure their well-being no matter how bad the weather gets!
If you are unsure how to best help an aging loved one, the trained and compassionate staff at the Institute on Aging is here to help you gain the best in at-home care for older adults. Contact us to find out more.