Short days, long nights, and a litany of celebrations to help us get through until spring, December hosts the official start of winter!
Of all the seasons we go through, winter seems to be the most polarizing (pun intended). Some folks love the allure of a cozy, crackling fireplace and the extreme thrills of winter sports, while others detest the cold so much that they leave town until spring returns. Whatever your opinion on the season, one thing is for sure, winter requires more planning for safety than any other season. Regardless of age, winter temperatures and sudden snowfall can turn into a crisis rapidly, so this December, we’ve decided it would only be fitting to write up a post about staying safe in the cold months ahead.
Seniors especially face challenges in the sub-arctic temperatures, so here are some pointers on how to safely enjoy this highly controversial, likely unpredictable season of snow!
The Great Outdoors – Or not so great when it comes to winter weather, spending time outside is still a vital part of keeping your mind and body healthy in all seasons. Even though the weather can drain all the appeal out of going outside, it shouldn’t prohibit you from doing so, especially on those nice days where the sun peaks through the clouds and warms things up a little bit. If you take precautions and limit your overall time outdoors, you will be fine to get some fresh air even in the cold of winter.
1.) Layer up: Wearing multiple layers of clothing when outdoors is non-negotiable in terms of winter readiness. An undershirt, long sleeve shirt, flannel, sweater, light jacket, then heavy jacket in that order will work wonders at keeping the cold air out and your body heat in!
2.) Let somebody know: It may seem silly, but sending off a text or phone call to a trusted loved one before you head out for winter errands, or exercise can pay off in case of emergencies.
3.) Dry clothing ready to go: Should you be among the people who enjoy spending time outside in the winter weather, you likely know about the first two points in this list. Nevertheless, it’s important to quickly change clothing after your outdoor extravaganza. Set aside some warm, dry clothing before you head out so that you can change as soon as you return from your adventure. Wet clothing drains body heat very quickly, so preparing your dry clothing in advance can ensure you stabilize your body temperature as fast as possible.
Precautions for the indoors too – While the indoors becomes the main stage for most people during the winter season, it too can present its own challenges for older adults if steps are not taken beforehand to make sure the heat stays in and the cold stays out!
1.) Insulation and draft: Those thin openings around your windows and gaps beneath your doors will work in tandem to try keeping your home drafty in the winter. Choose a sacrificial blanket or towel to place under the gap at the bottom of your doors to help keep each room warm and cozy. Additionally, there are several products designed to help insulate windows during the winter and most of them are easily removable come springtime. Make a quick trip to your local hardware store or home goods store and ask about what products they carry that are intended to insulate windows temporarily in the winter and get them installed as soon as possible.
2.) Acceptance and the gas bill: Of all the unpleasant surprises winter brings, a major spike in your monthly gas bill is sure to make an appearance. Plan for the spike, and make sure to pay attention to your bill each month in the winter as you’ll want to monitor how efficient your home is at staying warm. Additionally, there are a vast number of assistance programs available to help ease the burden of winter gas bills, so if the increased cost is causing you stress, these might be worth looking into.
3.) Rely on the heater, not the stove: What once was a critical appliance in the fight to keep your home warm is no longer intended for that purpose. Of the litany of reasons not to heat your home with the stove, potentially dangerous gases being released is top of the list. Fire hazards, carbon monoxide, and a complete breakdown of your stove join the long list of reasons to rely on your home heating system and leave the stove to do its job making you delicious food.
Conditions at odds with cold – Whether you fancy yourself a cold weather person or you prefer the heat, one thing is for certain, there are a number of health conditions that affect your body's ability to deal with the cold. With so many conditions on the list, we’ve narrowed it down to a few of the more common ailments that will affect your body's ability to deal with the cold.
1.) Diabetes: Cold weather comes as quite a shock to your body, and as such, hormonal changes occur rapidly. Regarding diabetes, the hormone cortisol is produced when faced with sudden cold weather, and the release of this hormone results in blood sugar spikes due to the body releasing less insulin. For diabetics, checking your body parts, engaging in exercise indoors, monitoring blood sugar more often, and staying warm are of the utmost importance for staying safe and healthy during the winter months.
2.) Arthritis: Although not as immediately dangerous as diabetes, the cold weather brings with it a unique set of difficulties for those dealing with arthritis in the winter. The joints affected by arthritis are designed to function best in temperate climates, so the sudden shock of cold weather can cause increased pain in affected areas. Less blood flow and shivering can also worsen arthritic pains, meaning winter can be very uncomfortable for people with arthritis of any kind. Practicing indoor exercise, dressing warm, stretching, and eating a healthier diet composed of anti-inflammatory foods are your best methods of keeping the added arthritic pain at bay this winter.
3.) Memory impairments: Memory impairments, like the various forms of dementia, present a unique challenge in the cold winter months. First and foremost, individuals living with a form of dementia can experience confusion due to the short days and long nights. This disruption of the circadian rhythm is made more noticeable in the winter months, so making sure to wake them up with the sun and start winding down when it gets dark can help lessen the confusion that they may face. Eating and staying hydrated should be reinforced more frequently, as our bodies work harder to stay warm in the winter and therefore require more fuel than they would in the warmer months. Keeping rooms in their home a little extra warm and providing warm comfortable clothing are also key practices to follow in the pursuit of winter safety. Finally, if your loved one with a memory impairment is prone to wandering, plan ahead, the earlier the better. Wandering is scary in nice weather, but it can quickly prove lethal in the cold of the winter, so employing additional caregiving help or developing a plan for monitoring should be at the top of the list for those giving care to an individual diagnosed with memory impairments or other forms of dementia.
Don’t let the arctic air get your spirits down this winter! With proper planning and preparation, winter can be something you look forward to! Take account of your situation along with the needs and considerations of the older loved ones in your life and put some of these pointers into practice! Before you know it, another cold dark winter will have passed by, and we’ll be back out in the sunshine. The more work you put into preparing for the winter, the more you’ll be able to do, and who knows, you might discover that these winter months aren’t so bad after all!