Winter can be a lonely time for seniors, which can make it a dangerous time, too.
Because seniors often live alone, there’s nobody there to make sure the heat is on and they’re staying warm enough. So neighbors play a crucial role in keeping seniors safe. This is especially important since the elderly don’t sense the cold in the same way as others do, putting them at particularly high risk of hypothermia.
As subzero temperatures continue to freeze homes both inside and out, it’s important to plan to check in on your elderly neighbors.
One way to make sure they’re safe is to stop by, chat for a few moments, make sure the house is warm enough, the senior is appropriately dressed and that he or she does not have what’s called the “umbles” – or signs of hypothermia. These include fumbling, stumbling and mumbling, and may suggest that the internal body temperature is decreasing. Signs to look out for also include confusion or memory loss, shallow breathing, shivering, bright red skin and slurred speech.
To prevent hypothermia, seniors should:
- Keep the thermostat above 65 degrees.
- If heating bills are a concern, consider staying in bed under the covers for periods of time. But don’t forget to get up and move around regularly, since movement is healthy.
- Dress warmly, both indoors and out, including hats, gloves and extra, loose-fitting layers.
- If necessary, go to a well-heated public space like the senior center, library, mall or movie theater. But avoid spending too much time outdoors to get there—arranging a car service or other mode of vehicular transportation is ideal.
- Make use of home delivery services if possible to reduce the need to venture outdoors.
Seniors should also try to stay dry. Activities that cause sweating should be avoided, and coats as well as shoes or snow boots should be removed immediately upon entering the house and switched out for indoor shoes.
If you see sings of hypothermia, call 911 and wrap the senior in warm blankets. Don’t put him or her in hot water or a bath, but do offer warm fluids to drink.
At this time of the year, a neighbor's helping hand is needed more than ever. And besides potentially saving lives, stopping by to say hello might just make a senior’s day.